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fromheadtoheart flag Mare Smythii - Full Moon 205 - 05/25/13

From head to heart
The Go-Betweens (30) + The Trashcan Sinatras (20)

Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar time-machine takes a twin trip. Yes, here's a double bill! Two for the price of one ride. We're talking 1983 vs. 1993. Twenty years ago, and thirty years ago. Two goody-bags with a ten year gap, linked together with quality as a point of reference. And, of course, May as the Month of release.

The Go-Betweens
Before Hollywood
Rough Trade

coverpic If some radio/tv-station or newspaper (or Luna Kafe) should approach me on the street with the question: "Name the one 80's song that made the biggest impression", I would start with a reasoning about the overall idea that the music of the 80's was not all bad synth sound, big hair, ugly colours and ten seconds reverb. I would namedrop Pixies and The Smiths as important artists with long lasting quality. But the ONE song from that decade, you say? I think I would go for "Cattle And Cane" by Australian band The Go-Betweens, taken from their album Before Hollywood.

The Go-Betweens was a trio when they recorded the album Before Hollywood in May 1982, consisting of guitarists/writers Robert Forster and Grant McLennan and drummer Lindy Morrison. On the record they are sometimes augmented by Bernard Clarke on piano and organ.

The year before they released Send Me A Lullaby on Rough Trade, a less mature and somewhat unfocused affair but the seed was already there. With Before Hollywood The Go-Betweens took a giant step forward and for an indie kid like me, fed up with much of the British music at the time, this was suddenly a band to watch. They had already had a couple of singles out in Australia, and their third 7" was also released on Scottish indie Postcard Records. However, I thought much of the music on that label, charming as it could be, was way too thin sound-wise and lacked - ahem - punch.

"Cattle And Cane" was released as a single prior to Before Hollywood but is still the key track on the band's second album from May 1983. A tale of writer Grant McLennan as a young boy returning home from boarding school to his mother in Queensland. It is paired with a beautiful melody and has some exquisite playing from all involved. Listening back to this track today, some 30 years since it's release, I am still trying to figure out how they get that song to sound so easy-going, pure and flowing in that beat. And what is that beat? A combination of 5/4, 2/4 and 4/4? And is there some 7/4's in there as well? I guess I never will find out; drummer Lindy Morrison does true wonders behind her Pearl kit.

Opening track "A Bad Debt Follows You" also comes with a staccato beat and is played in a strange rhythm pattern. The same goes for "Two Steps Step Out"; The Go-Betweens are not stuck in 4/4 beat of earlier records but this is no prog rock, oh no. To my ears, Go-Betweens are more related to the semi-nervous sound of American bands like The Feelies, early R.E.M. and Pylon.

"Dusty In Here" is a sparsely arranged reflection about McLennan's father; just guitar, voice and some sombre piano. Pure, sad beauty. Not all tracks on the album are classics; it may take some time to get used to Robert Forster's way of using his voice and I can understand those saying that his songs are not as melodic as McLennan's. But here, both "Ask" and "On My Block" are up there with the best on this album.

After Before Hollywood The Go-Betweens made a stopover at Sire Records (the more anonymous Spring Hill Fair) but later made great records for Beggar's Banquet, ending with 16 Lovers Lane - the Rumours of indie rock? - in 1988. The band broke up in 1989 but after some years with separate solo careers, McLennan and Forster successfully reactivated the group in 2000 without any of the other original members. Sadly, Grant McLennan died in 2006, aged 48.

I recall a bigger brighter world
A world of books
And silent times in thought.
And then the railroad
The railroad takes him home
Through fields of cattle
Through fields of cane.
from time to time
The waste memory-wastes
The waste memory-wastes
further, longer, higher, older

The Trashcan Sinatras
I've seen everything
Go! Discs

coverpic 'The world would be a poorer place without the Trashcan Sinatras' (Billboard Magazine)

Yes, the world deserved (deserves) The Trashcan Sinatras (or vice-versa), but the world wouldn't (won't) listen. Well, at least quite a few listened, but the bigger, or the really big audience turned a blind eye (or deaf ear...?). The Trashcan Sinatras put out their debut, Cake (1990) to critical acclaim in 1990, guided by singles "Obscurity Knocks" and "Only Tongue Can Tell". But all of a sudden grunge hit the world, and then the Trashcan Sinatras were 'dragged down' by the maelstrom of the Britpop (a.k.a. 'The Scene That Celebrates Itself') "war". Everything was about Blur vs. Oasis, plus bands such as Suede and Pulp (even though they've been around for ages, but had their commercial height from 1992 and on). Anyway, Frank Reader and the lads did what they were best at: excellent, melodic pop gems, delicately played, with nifty vocal harmonies on top.

The Trashcan Sinatras (TCS) formed (as a covers band) in Irvine, Scotland in 1986. The TCS team settled after some line-up changes and moving of positions inside the band on Frank Reader (vocals), John Douglas (guitar), Paul Livingston (lead guitar), Stephen Douglas (drums), and David Hughes (bass). I've Seen Everything saw a more potent, fresh and confident band than earlier. Guided by producer Ray Shulman (Gentle Giant) they happened to create one of the best (alt.) pop albums of the 1990s. Maybe the best. Nothing less. Some few contenders I see are: The Chills' Submarine Bells (1990), The Bats' Fear Of God (1991), XTC's Nonsuch (1992), fellow Scotsmen Teenage Fanclub's Songs from Northern Britain (1997 - or maybe their 1993 album Thirteen?), and Guided by Voices' Alien Lanes (1995 - or Bee Thousand from the previous year?).

I've Seen Everything starts with the mild "Easy Read", which somehow makes me see (well, hear) some nods to The Smiths (or Morrissey). "Hayfever", the first single off the album, follows, being a shamelessly catchy song. Imagine a blend of Crowded House and The Smiths. The Housemartins could also be mentioned. Then comes "Bloodrush", one of the real treats of the record. It's a powerful, or maybe powerfueled and energetic track, making a bloodrush through your body, or a rush of blood to the head. "Worked a Miracle" chills down a bit, being one of the quieter, calmer tracks of the album, along with "The Perfect Reminder" and "The Hairy Years". The quiet "Iceberg" works as a prologue, or the tip of an iceberg to "One At A Time" which is an explosion in colourful sound. It's another highlight of the album. Brilliant! With hints of Stone Roses and some relationship to The Boo Radleys, this songs could've (should've) easily and solely washed Oasis over board. The title track (the album's second single) fits perfectly with a line of other fine pop songs, such as "Orange Fell", "I'm Immortal", "Send For Henny". The closing "Earlies" is a nice ending, which along with the opening track makes a solid framework to a majestic album.

I've Seen Everything shows solid craftsmanship but also a big, big heart for true pop music. TFC (and Shulman) were aiming high with this album, but the perfection holds enough affection to give it a perfect human touch. It's a grandiose sound and an ambitious album. But they succeed in doing things the way they do have their feet firmly planted on the ground. This is the sound of excellence. Nothing less.

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