G Stands for Go-Betweens: The Go-Betweens Anthology Volume 2 is truly definitive and highly recommended.
Truly an embarrassment of riches, this second exhaustive collection dedicated to Australia’s now-legendary The Go-Betweens follows the long out-of-print Volume 1 and picks up where that finished. Volume 2 covers the second half of the original band’s tenure from 1985 to 1989, during which they released the albums Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (1986,) Tallulah (1987) and 16 Lovers Lane (1988.) This is the period of greater commercial success, when the art-rock post-punk they’d started with had become more fluently engaged with their unerring ability to craft great songs.
To the canonical releases, this set also includes a previously unreleased double live album recorded in 1987, rare and previously unreleased demos, 28 tracks recorded for an unreleased follow-up to 16 Lovers Lane, a 112 page book and the first issue of the Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express songbook, which also includes hand-transcribed sheet music of all ten of the album’s songs.
The hefty booklet that accompanies the set starts with Robert Forster’s own essay and begins “And so to pick up the story again …,” as charming and relaxed as a chat over a kitchen table. Forster referring to himself in the third person quickly becomes commonplace, and his essay, which necessarily covers and truncates the same ground as his previous (and highly recommended) writing about the band, is swift and pleasurable without skimping on details. If Forster’s essay were to be the only thing included to supplement the curated tracks, one would be pleased at the insights he provides and, by the end, the familiarity he adds, providing a context for the demos and rarities and linking them always to their final album or single versions. What’s most obvious, though, is Forster’s continued pride in the band and all that they accomplished despite, and at times because of, the long periods of struggle.
Equally apparent is his continued love for sorely missed fellow bandmate Grant McLennan, who died who died in 2006. The sheer volume of simply great songs collected here makes clear the strengths of Forster and McLennan, both as a team and as individual songwriters. The booklet also includes essays by Ryan Maffei, Cathal Coughlan, Jane Heath, Luke Haines and Peter Milton Walsh, each insightful and each taking a necessarily different yet always reverential approach to the history and impact of the band.
But it’s the music itself which is the treasure of this collection, the tracks curated by Forster with the same care he took on Volume One. The three previously released albums are as they were originally produced and sound as crisp and current now as they did then. This perhaps goes some way to explain, as Forster points out, why they were always subject to such mixed reviews. Never quite of their time, always somehow slightly adjacent to it, it’s this angular relation to the popular currents of the period that so dogged the band and prevented the massive breakthrough which they were always threatened with and which might very well have made them only meaningful instead of very nearly transcendent.
The post-16 Lovers Lane tracks, collected here as the set’s eighth album Loving Shocks, outline a band that would have sought to further mine the chiming chamber pop they had refined and perfected and its pleasing to hear the folk flavours creeping forward, settling comfortably over the assured and confident musicality that, with its singles such as “Streets of Your Town,” saw their greatest chart success. Elsewhere, the various live and radio tracks only further cement just how good The Go-Betweens were as a live outfit and, anchored by Forster’s written commentary, provide a narrative of the band as clear as his storytelling.
A collection like this is clearly intended for those with more than a passing interest in the band. Recent converts to The Go-Betweens are directed to any of the single or double length best-of albums currently in circulation. But if ever the opportunity to own this already-rare object should ever present itself, there’s no better introduction to the band as this exhaustive but never exhausting collection. G Stands for Go-Betweens: The Go-Betweens Anthology Volume 2 is truly definitive and highly recommended.