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Oceans Apart

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Album Review

Though it's been two years since Bright Yellow Bright Orange, Oceans Apart is further proof that the Go-Betweens are still a going concern. It is their third recording since reuniting after a 12-year hiatus. The lineup is the same as the last time out: Songwriters and frontmen Robert Forster and Grant McLennan are joined once more by drummer Glenn Thompson, and bassist, keyboardist, and backing vocalist Adele Pickvance. In addition, there is a small wind and brass section on some tracks, and, for a change, no strings. The band dug into its past for this one, bringing in producer Mark Wallis, who helmed the sessions for the classic 16 Lovers Lane in 1988. Oceans Apart sounds very little like its aforementioned predecessor, but that's hardly a problem. Wallis understands the band's subtleties and the textures they like to evoke better than anyone else they've ever worked with. His production is more assertive, but hardly excessive. In fact, he lends the added dimension (he loves keyboards and electronic percussions) the band's records have lacked since their comeback. The set opens with "Here Comes a City," a literary rocker by Forster. Its shimmering, chunka-chunka riff and Forster's vocals feel like a refined, musical nod to the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." It's also paranoid, clamoring for an edge it doesn't quite get to, and careens along to an uncertain yet quite arresting end. Things become a bit more characteristic on McLennan's beautiful "Finding You," with its lilting guitars, spare, clean lines, and poetic, emotional lyrics that can open veins with the fine slash of their honesty. The dreamy, pillowy "No Reason to Cry" is among the more elegant songs McLennan has ever composed. Its soulful vocal, chorus, and the way Wallis layers keyboards, vocals, and Forster's distorted lead lines give the lyrics great weight and depth. It's a truly wonderful pop song. The poetry in "Darlinghurst Nights" is some of Forster's more poignant, moving through reverie, grief, and loss. The weave of acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, drums, and percussion surrounds his voice, pushing it out in front just enough to let his words move toward the listener with enough force to draw her in. In contrast, his "Lavender" touches country music but never goes there. Loops, keyboards, and washes of guitars carry the tune somewhere else as a clarinet wafts in from the margin. Once more, its reverie is in his lyric, with a hint of the previous, as it meets the solitary present, and it's gorgeous. The electronic beats in "The Statue" are a bit jarring until the watery, warm, and luscious keyboards slip underneath subtly, only to be buoyed by a ringing lead-guitar line and McLennan's vocal speaking his desire without flinching. Forster's brief, elegiac "Mountains Near Dellray" closes the set with another sense of place, very different from his opener's. The mood is pastoral as the guitars wind and slip over one another. In addition, early editions of the CD come with a six-track, live EP, recorded at the Barbican in 2004. With its imagination, startling creativity, and sheer pop soul, Oceans Apart is the first great Go-Betweens' record of the 21st century.


Formed: 1978 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '00s

The Go-Betweens were perhaps the quintessential cult band of the '80s: they came from an exotic locale (Brisbane, Australia), moved to a major recording center (in their case, London) in a sustained bid to make a career out of music, released album after album of music seemingly tailor-made for the radio in spite of their having little use for contemporary Top 40 musical/lyrical formulas, and earned considerable critical praise and a small but fervent international fan base. Although the Go-Betweens...
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Oceans Apart, The Go-Betweens
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