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The Evangelist 

Album by Robert Forster.
Yep Roc Records

The story of The Go-Betweens is, to paraphrase a Jean Luc-Godard film, one of a "band of outsiders," one of travelling along the fringes of contemporary pop music, without ever breaking into the mainstream. When The Go-Betweens first started, they developed in the mid-1970s alongside more "rogue" Australian outfits like The Saints, The Birthday Party and The Beasts of Bourbon. In 1980, the band emigrated from their native Australia, moving to the U.K. to help bolster their status. They garnered a strong support from disc jockeys, such as the BBC's legendary John Peel, and the musical press.

Their music was a brand of eccentric pop (offbeat time signatures, mixing the influences of bubblegum with the Velvet Underground) that preceded the wave of like-minded pop bands that would come out of New Zealand, rather than Australia, with bands like The Chills, The Clean and The Bats. They spent a good portion of the 1980s touring, on the strength of two critically-acclaimed records, namely Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (1986) and 16 Lovers Lane (1988), brilliant albums that brought out the strength of the band's two songwriters, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, the founders (and the heart and soul) of The Go-Betweens. Yet after the fine studio work and hard touring, they didn't have a pot to piss in. Forster and McLennan, who had yet to chart a hit single, disbanded the group in 1989, leaving them to pursue solo careers.

Then in 2000, with the unlikely aid of Sleater-Kinney as back-up band, Forster and McLennan reunited. By 2005, the revamped Go-Betweens, with multi-instrumentalist Adele Pickvance on bass and Glenn Thompson on drums, released their third (and final) release, Oceans Apart, arguably their finest recording since 16 Lovers Lane. Then, as the group was gaining a rekindled momentum, McLennan died in his sleep from a massive heart attack. He was 48.

It is a revelation that Forster has mustered the will to produce a new record, The Evangelist, only two years after his songwriting partner's death. Their writing partnership had existed since their days at Queensland University in 1978. "We took things from each other into our own work," said Forster, from a recent No Depression magazine interview. "On The Evangelist, I wanted the pop songs to be pop, carried on from Grant. I wanted a little bit of a homage to him. Grant was more melodic in a traditional way."

It is evident in songs like "Pandanus," "Demon Days," "Let You Light In, Babe" (two of the three songs that McLennan is given co-writing credit), that Forster draws heavily from McLennan's pop sensibilities in melody, hooks and straightforward heart. In other words, this is just as much a Go-Betweens record, as it is a solo work. Forster's songs always leaned towards the more heady, bookish lyrical lines (such as "And why do people who read Dostoevsky/ always look like Dostoevsky?" from Oceans Apart's "Here Comes a City"). It appears that his ironic, and sometimes smart-arsed, cleverness is spare on The Evangelist. And this is one of the record's greatest strengths. Songs such as the title track "The Evangelist," "Let Your Light In, Babe" and "Demon Days" are simple in their lyrical and musical content, yet they are executed in such a masterful way, one that serves the song. It is difficult to deny their beauty.

The Evangelist is not a mournful record. Rather, it serves as a celebration and a fitting tribute to a lost creative partner, inspiring Robert Forster to produce his strongest work to date.

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Mark Shikuma

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