Image from The Ideal Type "A" Heat Machine by Ideal Furnace Co., 1925
Years ago, I bought a copy of Send Me a Lullaby, the debut record of the Go-Betweens (the greatest Australian band that no one listened to). I found the album to be unlistenable, basically - it was unlikeable, tuneless post-punk, which puzzled me because the Go-Betweens had just reunited at the time and people were talking about how awesome they were. I started buying later albums by the Go-Betweens (pre- and post-hiatus) and liked pretty much everything I heard, but I was hesitant to venture back to the band's earlier albums. The thing that confused me the most was that two of the band's best-known songs, "Cattle and Cane" and "Bachelor Kisses", came from the second and third albums (Before Hollywood and Spring Hill Fair), respectively.
So I finally go around to buying those two records, and they're both quite good, which was a relief. The thing I found especially striking about Before Hollywood, which came out in '83 directly after Send Me a Lullaby, is how much Grant McLennan's songwriting changed between the two records. At the time, Robert Forster was still writing the kind of dour, Joy-Division-esque songs that I found so unappealing on the band's debut, but McLennan was writing much more tuneful stuff, pointing the direction the band would go with their later pop-oriented records. Every one of McLennan's songs on Before Hollywood is good to great, from the recognized classic "Cattle and Cane" and the John-Cale minimalism of "Dusty In Here" to the album's big power-pop closer "That Way". Forster's only winner is the somewhat lighthearted "On My Block" - the rest falls flat. Not that I dislike Forster as a songwriter overall - his contributions to Spring Hill Fair are superior all around - but this album is one where Grant McLennan really shines.
"That Way" by the Go-Betweens