Monday, March 7, 2016

Album Reviews # 59 The Go-Betweens - Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond

It's taken me a while to get to a Go-Betweens album on here, almost three years, given that this blog is named after one of the lines in a song of theirs and that they stand very high among my personal and musical inspirations. They've been a regular and constant source of posts on here  I've gone for this, their third album proper though I could have easily plumped for any number of others. The first thing that needs to be said is that the cover is rotten. In terms of presentation, this is possibly among the very best records ever to be housed in a truly dreadful album sleeve which would not help for one moment to sell it. It's worth stating that despite their many attractions and strengths, visual presentation of their skills and talents wasn't always upper-most in the band's mind which is perhaps at least a partial explanation of why they didn't achieve the recognition that they deserved during their first, great golden spell in the nineteen eighties. This as well as switching record labels for whatever reason, while similar and more successful bands kept going a much more consistent career path.

For myself, and other fellow travelers The Go-Betweens are an almost mystical band in terms of quality, up there with The Smiths and R.E.M. their most obvious contemporaries in terms of their recorded ouput and general achievement. A sensitive, reflective band, going against the grain of a pretty vulgar, recidivist decade. But while the other two bands undoubtedly made their mark, The Go-Betweens, the equals of both in terms of quality, were left, apart from those who fully appreciated them at the time,  to wait for their due appreciation, which has really begun to kick in now, a couple of decades or more along the line.

As I've already indicated, I think this was partially at least their own fault. All three of these bands were defined by shyness, and turning their heads away from the defining culture and the prevailing mood. But The Go-Betweens were distinctive from both R.E.M and The Smiths in a couple of respects in that they had a couple of songwriters and singers with quite different emotional and lyrical perspectives in addition to a female drummer who happened to be going out with one of the front-men and subsequently being resented by the other one. It was a soap opera mix that added to the drama but possibly didn't contribute to a smooth ride and an obvious curve of commercial acclaim.

I don't want to labour the point because I pretty much love all three of these bands equally, but it is worth stating that both Michael Stipe and Morrissey were both obvious pop stars in the making despite their reticence while neither Robert Forster or Grant McLennan ever were. The Go-Betweens were pretty much always a band that aimed beyond the charts until their final album 16 Lovers Lane, when they finally came upon a recipe that might have achieved commercial dividend and by that stage sadly it was all a bit too late.

I can't find immediate links to all of the songs here which is also telling thirty years on. You'll have to hunt down the missing gaps and fill in the spaces for yourself. But it's worth the effort. The Go-Betweens, (appropriately considering they named themselves after a novel), are pretty much the ultimate book-readers band, housed on shelves, gathering in dust and waiting for the appreciative browser to select them, withdraw to a sofa and read at leisure.

In this respect they're incomparable. Sometimes their songs are cast in full sunlight, sometimes in gathering darkness but always somewhere slightly apart. Evasive from immediate physical recognition. Their music is always suggestive, but somehow away from absolute definition.They're utterly consistent, fully living up to their name and the novel they originally chose for their name. 

Most of all their songs sound like considered work. Carefully crafted work, chiselling thoughtfully at the seams and inwards into human experience. An ongoing discussion between the band that results in the most gentle, loving products imaginable.

This might not be their best work. All true Go-Betweens fans have their own favourites. I'd go for this, the album before it, Spring Hill Fair and their last album from their first phase, 16 Lovers Lane as the ones to go for first. Others would choose Before Hollywood, which I personally think, apart from Cattle & Cane, their obvious early masterpiece, to be still a bit too rough at the edges to make it through at one sitting. I think they were transitioning from being a singles and songs project to becoming an albums band. In this respect Liberty Belle hits the spot in every respect as well as showing off a truly joint effort between Forster and McLennan. Neither one's songs are noticeably stronger than the other's on here and they dovetail and complement one another throughout.

In the year that this came out I went to see the band at Kingston Poly, across the Thames but walking distance from my parent's house in Teddington, with a couple of university friends (in the second term of my first year), my sister and a friend of hers. We walked into the hall to see the band doing their sound-check with the room fully lit. It was a strange, but unforgettable moment. A truly great but unappreciated band, at the height of their powers displaying their magic before a handful of people. At the end of the song, Lindy Morrison, their tall, slightly ungainly, but wholly gorgeous drummer, climbed off her stool and stretched her limbs in the unnatural glaring light of the venue. I can't remember particular instances of the gig that followed once they returned in their natural, dimmed setting but will never forget that.


The Go-Betweens albums, more than anything are a transcript of lost moments. This perhaps more than anything explains why they never sold as many records as they should have done. Thirty years down the line they sound if anything more intangible and impenetrable than they did at the time. 'Like a lip lifted from a lip'. Like trying to recall the pleasures of a kiss. A lost discussion between lovers long since parted. I could itemise the individual joys of this album but as with all great records you're best advised to experience it for yourself. This record is every bit as good as any in your collection although it's still so introspective and considered that it may never be truly recognised as such. This is probably the world's loss. It's certainly not theirs!


  1. Almost impossible to choose a favorite Go-Betweens album, but this one is right up there with 16 Lovers Lane for me. Sometimes I think that it's Spring Hill Fair. It's just too difficult to single one out.

  2. I'd go for these three anyhow. Spring Hill Fair is very important to me as it's the first of theirs I bought. I think all round this is slightly better though. 16 Lovers Lane too of course is just wonderful.