Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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In 1989, after a decade of deserving to be famous, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster broke up the Australian-British Go-Betweens, probably the greatest songwriting band of the '80s. But the two saw each other often as they pursued their solo muses, collaborating on tours and even a filmscript, and now they've rejoined for a superb seventh album, The Friends of Rachel Worth (Jetset). True, despite input from Sleater-Kinney (notably drummer Janet Weiss), the musical mesh isn't total, so that Forster's talky songs seem more striking even though they're less melodic. But this is a rare kind of rock. It's what Tin Pan Alley devotees like to call civilized, only without pretensions of superiority or sophistication--quiet, thoughtful, humorous, slightly weird. The Go-Betweens are guys to have a drink with, not to get plastered with. Make mine single malt with a side of seltzer.

McLennan and Forster's chief competitors for the postpunk songwriting crown are Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding of XTC, who also took a long sabbatical in the '90s before returning with the orchestral Apple Venus Volume One and now the guitar-driven Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume Two) (TVT). The time off refreshed their skills while leaving open the question of whether they're victims of arrested development or just like to write about it. Catchiest in show: Standing In for Joe, about cuckolding your best friend, and Wounded Horse, about getting cuckolded. Neither is really fun, they reveal.

Of course, many would claim that Ian Dury, dead of cancer early this year, could outwrite any of these geezers. The bawdy, word-drunk Ian Dury & the Blockheads Live!: All the Best, Mate . . . (Music Club) could make a believer out of you.

Playboy, Sept. 2000


Aug. 2000 Oct. 2000