Go-Betweens' Robert Forster Goes Solo

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Robert Forster 300

The Go-Betweens' Robert Forster goes solo on his new album The Evangelist. Stephen Booth hide caption

toggle caption Stephen Booth

If you are Australian, chances are you know the rock band called The Go-Betweens. The band has been influential around the world, although it's not as well known in the U.S. In 2006, one of the group's founders died suddenly of a heart attack, and the Go-Betweens came to an end. Now one remaining member, Robert Forster, has put out a solo album.

The impolite truth is that Robert Forster was The Go-Between's lesser half. Grant McLennan, Forster's friend and partner for his entire adult life, took up music at Forster's urging. But it was the late McLennan who again and again gave this song band what every song needs most — a good tune.

The catchiest song on Forster's first solo album in 12 years, The Evangelist, is "It Ain't Easy," and the melody on that one is McLennan's too, one of half a dozen he and Forster were working out when McLennan died.

Forster borrows two other McLennan tunes on this contemplative, rather mournful record. But the opener "If It Rains," is solely his own, about a literal drought and, more generally, environmental peril.

That stark, almost religious reverie is followed immediately by "Demon Days," a less pointed song of disquiet further softened by another Grant McLennan melody.

I like both these songs. I like every song on The Evangelist, which is easily Robert Forster's strongest solo CD. But the odd thing is that although McLennan's "Demons Days" is catchier, in the end the all-Forster all-the-time "If It Rains" is more striking and sticks harder. That's how it was on all three albums The Go-Betweens released in this decade, after an amicable 10-year layoff. McLennan's facility always drew you in but Forster's sensible prosaic voice made a deeper and sharper impression. Artistically as well as personally, Forster will miss his dearest friend for the rest of his life.

Songs have never come easy to him. So he may well draw on McLennan's tune stock again. But if he comes up with material as strong as The Evangelist's title cut, about bringing his wife to Australia from her native Germany, he'll be fine.

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