63. Bright Yellow Bright Orange, The Go-Betweens (Jetset, 2003)
Brisbane songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan produced six studio albums from 1978-88 with their co-ed group the Go-Betweens, earning wide critical acclaim and an adoring fan base in Australia and the UK. The group possessed a sparkling, jangling pop sound; more notable, though, was the two leaders’ songwriting and its uncanny ability to depict the mundane and invigorating aspects of romance, friendship, and everyday life and retain a masculine perspective without avoiding sensitive or feminine qualities. The continual lack of commercial success proving frustrating, the band parted ways in ’89 and its two leaders went on to separate careers while remaining close friends. Both delivered a handful of strong solo records in the ’90s. They occasionally performed their group’s songs together as a duo, until deciding to fully revive the brand with a new Go-Betweens album in 2000. For that effort, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Forster and McLennan created a new roster including Sydney bassist Adele Pickvance (with whom they had both worked) and, on drums, Janet Weiss of US indie group Sleater-Kinney (the other members of Sleater-Kinney guested, as did Sam Coombes from Weiss’s side project Quasi). The album was a striking return to form and on par with their best work, revealing the Aughts-model Go-Betweens to be a vibrant concern.
Bright Yellow Bright Orange is the second of three Aughts Go-Betweens LPs, and the eighth overall. The Sleater-Kinney contingent no longer present, Forster and McLennan are accompanied here by Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson (who played on Forster’s ’93 solo LP Calling From a Country Phone). The songs have a less explicitly acoustic feel than those of its predecessor, though the albums do feel of one piece. Bright Yellow opens with a pair of crisp rockers; Forster’s Caroline and I imagines the parallels between two unrelated people with the same birth year, in this case himself and Princess Caroline of Monaco (“It gave me something small I could feel/That maybe as you grew you knew how I’d feel”). McLennan’s Poison in the Walls follows, and could almost be interpreted as an oblique nod to the Go-Betweens’ prior run (“There’s nothing more that’s new/And where’s that brilliant juice/The flame that fired your heart/That made you want to start.”) In Her Diary recalls Forster’s previous quotidian character examinations like The Clarke Sisters (’87); the subject’s diligent record-keeping leaves her disconnected from her own memories, with nothing other than “Some kind of thing/That reminds her of a photograph/Of some people she’s known.” In Mrs. Morgan, McLennan reprises a character from the song Trapeze Boy on his ’91 Jack Frost LP (a collaboration with Steve Kilbey of the Church). Bright Yellow closes with two sparse ballads, first Forster's Something for Myself; “Trapped within an image/Unable to move,” its protagonist vows to “get a new strength” and move beyond his own hangups. McLennan’s Unfinished Business closes the album with a tender, quiet gesture to an exhausted friend: “Are you gonna make it?” Like all Go-Betweens albums, Bright Yellow Bright Orange is just a simple collection of outstanding yet unassuming rock-influenced pop songwriting; Forster and McLennan’s ability to produce such winning material nearly thirty years after their first single—while sounding as fresh as their younger contemporaries—illustrates their standing as one of the great songwriting teams of the Aughts.
Highlights: Caroline and I, Poison in the Walls, Old Mexico, Something for Myself
Sublime bit: Old Mexico’s choruses: “You were so excited/But you weren’t invited,” with shimmering acoustic guitar and Pickvance harmonies.
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