I was a relatively well-behaved teenager, which meant I had a lot of time on my hands. So I’d think up little projects for myself to pass the time. Things that would never occur to my more fun-loving (or rather, fun-having) friends.
I’d recycle my record collection, or total up the running times of my albums (40 minutes was my standard of excellence). Or pore over album liner notes obsessively (Hugh McCracken, anyone?)
See a pattern here? It’s okay, it helped cut down on the masturbation. Slightly.
Another one of the projects I’d assign myself was to go deep into an artist’s catalog - buying most if not all of their albums, at least until I noticed the law of diminishing returns kick in.
Well, some things never change. They may take a lot more time - or a lot less, depending on what you’re talking about - but I still find myself doing them. But let’s get back to music, shall we?
Once a Nerd...
I’ve been on this on-again-off-again quest to get every album by the Go-Betweens. The off-again aspect of it can be attributed to real life occasionally butting in, but it’s also due to a slight, but totally unreasonable, sense of disappointment.
It started with Go-Betweens:1978-1990 which, over the 24 years since I got it, has become one of my all-time favorite albums. (Good luck finding it, though.)
This is an embarrassing admission. I always found it lame when one of someone’s top albums was a “Best of”. It smacks of laziness, middle age, parenthood and Merlot.
And when you start with a “Best of”, and then decide to go deep, aren’t you just bound to be disappointed by the original albums? Not necessarily.While “Best of"s purport to be the cream of the crop, no sooner is one released before fans begin to carp about the song selection.
Most of the time I find “Best Ofs” to be frustrating. You’d think they’d be fantastic, and sometimes they are. But sometimes the very variety of these albums make the individual songs not sit together well. Thus the original albums are the more satisfying.
Or sometimes the song selection sucks.
Which should have been the case here, since GBs:1978-1990 is actually a best-of/compilation of rare cuts and B-sides. By definition, a mixed bag. The regular albums should be just as good, right?
There are about ten GB albums, so where to start? You want to get your money’s worth, so you avoid albums with a lot of the songs from the Best of. But then, doesn’t that suggest it’s a weaker album? What to do?
I finally got around to getting Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express - their fourth album, with only one song on the compilation - a few years later. Good, but not as hooky or stirring as I’d have liked, and so I paused.
About ten years later I got Ocean’s Apart, which came out after GBs:1978-1990 and an extended band hiatus. It’s one of my favorite albums of the 2000s. So maybe they were worth further exploration, after all.
Then came Spring Hill Fair - their third, with three picks. About halfway between Liberty and Oceans in terms of production and muscle, but just missing a little magic. So I put my toys away for a while.
I tried again last year with Tallulah - their fifth, which was very good! But it was clear that GBs:1978-1990 got the best songs - all four of the them! - from it.
Maybe it was time to stop. After all, what were the chances that the next one would have any revelations? And yet, spurred on by glowing on-line user reviews (let’s deal with that at another time) I was still intrigued enough to continue.
Always a Nerd:
So here's the latest installment in my undiminished, yet still slightly disappointing quest:
Their second record, more or less. Quiet, bare. But propulsive. Purported to be a significant leap forward from the debut.
One thing that always set the GBs off from other singer/songwriter bands is the engine they constructed under each song. It always had a lot of horsepower. Forget about being female, Lindy Morrison was simply one of the best drummers around. And their guitar-bass interplay always made them a band rather than just a bunch of musicians standing around and playing with the songwriters.
This was necessary, though, since Robert Forster, who wrote intriguing songs, was never big on singing pretty. David Byrne seems to be his inspiration, but things aren’t weird enough here to warrant such mannerisms.
And I wish they stuck to their guns with the arrangements. For some reason, they throw in an organ, even though the best songs here - “Cattle and Cain” and “Dusty in Here”, both of which naturally appear on
GBs:1978-1990 - are the ones that are the very barest. Given how everyone was dabbling in synthesizers at the time, it must have been their half hearted attempt to stay “current”.
But despite such awkward corners but there is a personality emerging that would result in some of the best songwriting in the 80s. This may be their best balance of band and song without production. The GBs have almost arrived! B+
Best of the Best ofs:
So the GBs don’t make it easy. Each album has high points that keep you around long enough to hear the rougher stuff. The funny thing is that GBs:1978-1990 was like that too.
And now that I’m a few albums into the catalog my estimation of GBs:1978-1990 - which I’d already marked as my favorite non-Christmas holiday album - just keeps going up.
Which makes me think that while there are at least two more of their records I’ve got my eye on, I should slow down a bit.
After all, what’s the big deal? I don’t have Yellow Submarine yet, either.