Published Feb 01, 2000The Go-Betweens shaped a six-album legacy as a no-hit wonder before calling it quits in 1990. Nearly a decade later, the group's two principal songwriters are thinking about mounting another attack on the pop charts.
Buoyed by the release of a new best of album, Bellavista Terrace , Grant McLennan and Robert Forster recently hit the road for ten-week tour of North America, Australia and Europe. The flattering response to the duo's set of old Go-Betweens chestnuts, songs from their solo careers and a couple of new songs has got McLennan and Forster thinking about future plans.
"So many people are enjoying what we're doing at the moment, it begs the question, what next?," says McLennan. He said there is a tentative plan for the duo to go into a studio near his home in Sydney, Australia shortly after the final North American leg the Go-Betweens' tour wraps-up July 1.
"Not to record an album," insists McLennan, "but just to put down the vibe that we've got now. We've never done an acoustic record - there have always been acoustic guitars, but never an acoustic record. The radio sessions we have been doing and the live shows, there's something magic going on and I think we should document it in some way."
The Go-Betweens produced studio six albums in a 12 year career that was beset by two bankrupted labels (Rough Trade and Sire UK) and other, less damaging career hiccups. Born in 1978 as a scrappy punk band that slowly evolved to become one of the most sophisticated pop groups ever, the guitar-driven Go-Betweens harnessed melody and strung together smart lyrics to set new standards in songwriting.
Over the years the Australian band evolved from trio to quartet to quintet in its final incarnation, and moved from Brisbane to London and back again. In that decade-plus flurry of activity, the band never caught a single break.
The newly-released Bellavista Terrace is a collection of greatest hits from a band that officially never had a commercial hit. Fans will be able to debate the omission of beloved tracks for years - how could "Man o' Sand to Girl o' Sea" be included and not "Apology Accepted"?- but according to McLennan, the idea was to appeal to new ears.
"Bellavista Terrace is very much like a Buddy Holly's Greatest Hits kind of thing," he says. "If some 18-year-old - in K-Mart or someplace like that -doesn't want to wade through the albums, he or she can get a concise and glorious best of."
The best of's track listing was an easy row to hoe, according to both songwriters. Forster says it took all of 20 minutes to decide. McLennan says there was only one disagreement to sort out, but diplomatically won't say which song was the point of contention. "Obviously, it was going to be singles heavy, but at the same time we didn't want to misrepresent the album tracks because they are loved as much as the more obvious songs," he says. "I think it's a pretty good balance."
Since the demise of the Go-Betweens, Forster and McLennan both recorded a steady stream of solo albums for Beggar Banquet. Notably, McLennan's solo debut Watershed and Fireboy continued in the pop vein established by the Go-Betweens. Both boosted a wide-open sound with big production values and clean melody lines. Forster's solo output veered erratically, from the brooding Danger in the Past to the quirky covers album, I Had A New York Girlfriend and beyond.
As good as some of these albums are, even the most ardent fans would probably admit that Forster and McLennan never sounded better than when their songs were butting heads on the same album. Both songwriters ended their arrangement with Beggars Banquet last year, leaving them wide open for future projects.
"As we go along there are thoughts about the future," says Forster, who lives with his family in Germany. "We would like to make a record, but we will have to see what happens. I don't want to jinx anything. Grant has some songs. I've got about eight songs I've written over the last three-and-a-half years. We could start to move towards a record fairly quickly. But when we would record, I have no idea."
In the spirit of documenting the tour, McLennan says some recent concerts have been recorded, although he's not sure what will become of the tapes. But if history is any indication, these things have a way of surfacing in the public domain - a fair amount of unreleased, archival material has recently seen the light of day. Three years ago, around the time Beggars Banquet re-released the band's studio albums, a French-language rock magazine released a special issue that included McLennan and Forster's demos for16 Lovers Lane , the Go-Betweens' last studio album. This year, early editions of Bellavista Terrace included a bonus CD of radio sessions. And the band's earliest demos were released by New York independent label, Jetset, as'78 'til '79: The Lost Album . Still left up on the shelf are demos the two made for what would have been album number seven.
"We haven't done anything with that yet and it's surprisingly good," says McLennan, referring to the tapes often referred to asBotany Street . "There are various other things floating in the vaults that could be collected. I'm pushing for a box set," Forster says. "There won't be any action on that front for a year or two."
For the moment, McLennan and Forster are more interested in the present and the near future to think about digging deeper into their back catalogue for buried treasure. "What Robert and I are doing at the moment is the best we have ever been," McLennan says.
Forster credits the timeless allure of the songs to the band's diligent creative process. "I think what did go into it is why it has lasted," he explains. "There was an inherent quality to what we did because we put the time into it at the time. "That diligence is still a motivating factor for the duo today. Interest in the Go-Betweens is arguably as high as it has ever been, but neither Forster nor McLennan is looking to make any rash decisions.
"We are in the most beautiful position of both being free and operating at the best we've ever been. It's genius," says McLennan. "We get so many offers and suggestions - producers and studios and record companies, stuff like that - and we are just saying, 'Patience. Patience.'"