Review: The Go-Betweens – 16 Lovers Lane

Posted in Music, Review by jukeboxparables on March 7, 2009


I’m going to come straight out with a ‘big call’ there is probably no more an authentic Australian album than this 1988 release by Brisbane band The Go-Betweens, their 6th and final album (with an original lineup) Of course that’s as subjective as statements come. But put aside AC/DC’s Back In Black for one moment and let me continue, traditionally speaking the world thinks of Australia through the eyes of our biggest musical export’s visual imagery. Thunder, dust, breaking out of gaol (gaolbreak damnit!) blue singlets and probably utes doing burnouts. All of those things are completely absent from a band like The Go-Betweens. This album is a culmination of sorts for them and It’s a different yet equally valid perspective on things.

What does that even mean; authentic Australian album? Well at first listen 16 Lovers Lane projects tales of love, loss, reserved regret, melancholy moments and fiery proclamations. Those things aren’t exclusively Australian no, but the way these stories are told and crafted are exclusively Australian, they’re instinctively the work of The Go-Betweens.

Each subsequent listen drags you further and further into the scenes of the album. You get the distinct feeling of driving in an oldschool kingswood not-so-hurriedly as to miss passing scenery; tall golden grass plains and country cow pastures roll by yet with pertinent swiftness as if to make some pressing meeting in inner-city Brisbane, A pressing meeting to sort out matters of the heart even.

The opening track “Love Goes On!” with apt use of the exclamation mark, Grant McLennan almost cheekily delivers a line that could well be a book-blurb summary for the album.

There’s a cat in my alleyway, Dreaming of birds that are blue
Sometimes girl when I’m lonely, This is how I think about you

After only a few listens of this album initially. I found myself making comparisons with bands like The Smiths. It was the only thing in my mind that I could strike a comparison too either them or rather more loosely The Pixies. I still think there is a hint of London love and longing etched throughout this album. Although less urban, more acoustic and slightly more oddball-folk-Australian. This may be a bit of an unfounded comparison musically. But If your one for comparisons there are certain ‘quips which you’d pick Morissey as having penned. The album was recorded in Sydney at Studio 301 and written in Australia shortly after all of the members returned from a tough time in London, England where they were for several years. You get the impression that the memory of time over there was hovering over them and set the scene for part of the mood of this work even though its themes are universal.

You get the distinct impression this is Art, it’s not intended to be a pop album, it flows more like a short novel or a collection of short-stories; cut scenes from a life of living with love and all it’s shortcomings/glory. Yet pop sensibilities do indeed shine through.

Take the grab-you-first sing-along “Streets of Your Town” probably the bands most famous tune. It’s simple and yet paints a clear picture of it’s intention. A place where every landmark is a reminder of someone and something special.

Round and round up and down, Through the streets of your town
Everyday I make my way, Through the streets of your town

While its easy to hear this track as a stand-out. After subsquent listens it isn’t. The album has so many stand out songs it’s hard to chose a favourite they’re more a collective of parts that function to create a mood and I probably shouldn’t be talking about them individually. But this mood is two sides of a coin.

At the time one half of the songwriting duo; Grant Mclennan was in a relationship with fellow band member Amanda Brown the exclamation on the opening track now resonates what Grant was writing about though it is best expressed on “Quiet Heart” the love-struck feel of the strings backing the track having been arranged by Amanda, whilst other half of the songwriting duo Robert Forster penned more introverted outside-looking-in tunes “Love is A Sign”

I’m ten feet underwater, Standing on a sunken canoe
Looking up at the waterlillies, They’re green and violet blue
Still the sun it finds, A place to light me

Nearing the tail-end of the album another of Robert Forster’s tracks “I’m Allright” grabs every lover that has ever dealt with broken hope and replaces any remaining melancholy angst and leaves listeners incessantly repeating I’m allright…

A personal standout however comes from Mclennan’s “Was There Anything I Could Do? The rhythmic driving acoustic guitar gets your feet tapping whilst the lyrics tale a tale of confusion and bemusement.

She went out with her paint box, Paints the chapel blue
She went out with her matchsticks, Torched a carwash too
I don’t know where she’s living, All I’ve got is a card
A picture of her at the pyramids, A knife held to her heart
Was there anything I could do?

16 Lovers Lane is a bit of an enigma; It’s pop album yet at first listen its hard to really ‘hear’ it’s hooks. It’s a bunch of great songs penned by a duo sitting at opposite ends of the table of life’s luck in love. Yet somehow it’s all perfectly intertwined. It somehow is the perfect soundtrack for both driving in that kingswood on a sunny day in the suburbs or country Australia happy and content yet equally valid for a dreary rainy Melbourne (or perhaps London?) day when everything has gone wrong.

Rating: 8.5/10


1. “Love Goes On!” – 3:19
2. “Quiet Heart” – 5:20
3. “Love is a Sign” – 4:12
4. “You Can’t Say No Forever” – 3:57
5. “The Devil’s Eye” – 2:05
6. “Streets of Your Town” – 3:36
7. “Clouds” – 4:02
8. “Was There Anything I Could Do?” – 3:06
9. “I’m Allright” – 3:10
10. “Dive for Your Memory” – 4:17

The Go-Betweens
16 Lovers Lane
Released: 1988
Label: Beggars Banquet Records / LO-MAX Records (2004 Reissue)



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