Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Robert Forster

  • Danger in the Past [Beggars Banquet, 1991] ***
  • Calling from a Country Phone [Beggars Banquet, 1993] **
  • I Had a New York Girlfriend [Beggars Banquet, 1994] *
  • Warm Nights [Beggars Banquet, 1996] **
  • Intermission: The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997 [Beggars Banquet, 2007]  
  • The Evangelist [Yep Roc, 2008] A-
  • Songs to Play [Tapete, 2015] A-
  • Inferno [Tapete, 2019] B+
  • The Candle and the Flame [Tapete, 2023] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Danger in the Past [Beggars Banquet, 1991]
singer-songwriter ("Baby Stones," "Is This What You Call Change") ***

Calling from a Country Phone [Beggars Banquet, 1993]
country-rock was never this gangly--singer-songwriter either ("The Circle," "Drop") **

I Had a New York Girlfriend [Beggars Banquet, 1994]
a cover album that runs out of material ("Echo Beach," "Locked Away") *

Warm Nights [Beggars Banquet, 1996]
songs too good for the help, subcontracted to none other than Edwyn Collins ("Cryin' Love," "I Can Do") **

Intermission: The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997 [Beggars Banquet, 2007]
Go-Betweens records set the late Grant McLennan's placidly melodic romantic discontents against Forster's talkier, knottier excursions, improving both by contrast. The solo collections from their decade-long '90s hiatus work differently. Ignoring chronology, the more eccentric disc by the less melodically apt Forster doesn't even lead with "Baby Stones," a no thanks to open relationships that soars on his most McLennanesque tune. But hooks have a way of surfacing--the keyboard riff of "I Can Do," his herky-jerk repetitions of the title "Danger in the Past." Clearly the surviving Go-Between should keep making music--alone. [Rolling Stone: 3.5]  

The Evangelist [Yep Roc, 2008]
As on most Go-Betweens records, the melodies take time to sink in, though not the Grant McLennan legacy retrofitted with a Robert lyric about Grant's affinity for melody. Simultaneously, the arrangements also sink in, and soon you learn that the title cut's cello riff is just as arresting as Grant's catchy tune. That's how it was after the band reunited in 2000--ultimately, Forster's sensible, prosaic voice struck home and stuck with you. There are no love songs as that term is usually understood here--just a solemn track about the perils of moving one's wife from the German forest to the Australian desert, a cheerful one about hooking up with a relocated mother and child at church, a lively one about the dead friend he'll mourn till he's dead himself. A-

Songs to Play [Tapete, 2015]
Subtlety isn't exactly an aesthetic choice for the other Go-Between. It's his destiny, imposed by his limitations as both singer and tunesmith. But in his first album in seven years he's clearly tailoring lyrics to that destiny, and that is an aesthetic choice, apt and sometimes droll but also limiting. It works best on "A Poet Walks," where the artist's ordinary stroll through the city doing ordinary things that make him better than you is accessorized with mariachi el-toro trumpet at the close, and "And I Knew," about the love he was certain destiny would impart if he undertook to travel 10,000 miles and wait till it happened--the last quarter of which repeats the phrase "and I knew" over and over (and over). A part of me wishes that coup was catchier, although I've definitely adjusted. The same part insists that I reveal the title of the catchiest track by far: "I Love Myself (And I Always Have)." A-

Inferno [Tapete, 2019]
After listening so faithfully I've even gotten behind a perversely mild opener based on one of Yeats's Crazy Jane poems, I've earned the right to make two observations. One is that every one of these nine calm tracks has its attractions--"Inferno" bemoaning a Brisbane summer so brutal it could signal the end of the world, "No Fame" honoring an artist who'll never enjoy the renown he deserves yet keeps imparting form to his stories anyway, "I'm Gonna Tell It" for some reason exploring a very similar theme. The other is that a year from now, with another brutal antipodal summer behind the planet we hope, you're more likely to choose Forster's The Evangelist or the Go-Betweens' Oceans Apart when craving a taste of this particular artist who's not as famous as he deserves to be. B+

The Candle and the Flame [Tapete, 2023]
Driven by nothing less than the specter of death, Forster transcends his melodic limitations with a homemade album indelibly enlivened by the contributions of his family and especially his wife Karin, whose ongoing battle with ovarian cancer enriches even the tracks she's too ill to take part in. The mouth-dropping thriller is an encomium to chemo called "It's Only Poison": "It's written on the bottle, the bottle on the shelf/It's written deep in scripture that you can save yourself/It's only poison meant to drive you mad/It's only poison and it's all they have," Forster croons in his familiar sprechgesang, and while he's at it Karin adds background harmonies that aim for sweet salvation all by themselves. A

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