Sunday, September 13, 2015

Songs To Play (And Love): A Review Of The New Album From Robert Forster

On a certain level my life seems richer for having The Go-Betweens' music in it. The tunes of that band seem to actually grow in stature in my heart and mind as the years pass. Having met the late Grant McLennan and Robert Forster in 1999 or so in D.C., I count myself incredibly lucky that I at least had one brief moment where I could express to those men how much their work had meant to me for so long.

Even before Grant's tragic death, Robert Forster was capable of making fine music on his own. And, thankfully, he's at it again and here to share with his fans one of his best records ever. Songs to Play will be out at the end of this week on Tapete Records. It is full of songs that are individual master-classes in how to write pop music. I think you know I'm not speaking of pop in the Miley sense, right?

Here, the songs of Robert Forster are reminders of all the tricks in this legendary dude's playbook. "Learn to Burn" thumps along on the back of a sort of "Life During Wartime" rhythm and if Forster isn't Byrne -- Thank God for that -- he's an equally adept frontman...even without a big suit. Commanding and downright sexy -- dare I say that about a Go-Between!?! -- Forster sounds more on fire here than I ever expected him to sound. "Let Me Imagine You" breezes by like something Grant McLennan could have written -- has Forster now "lightened up" a bit and adopted a sunnier vibe as a songwriter in the wake of Grant's death? -- and "Songwriters on the Run" sounds like a distant cousin of "The Wrong Road" or "The Clarke Sisters" to this Go-Betweens fan.

There are gentle moments here (the sublime and assured "And I Knew") and ones that border on the slightly sinister, at least in mood (the insistent and horn-anchored "A Poet Walks"), but every moment here speaks volumes about Forster's talents and place as one of the greatest living songwriters. There is something distinct about his voice as a writer and while one can certainly spot a certain admiration for Dylan here, Forster never ever descends into the sort of faux Bob-isms that other generations of singer-songwriters have lapsed into. Forster's skill is at crafting something personal that seems to hint at something universal. That's about the only way I can explain the charm of these tunes.

"I'm So Happy for You" is one of the most seemingly upbeat things Forster's cranked out in some time, while "Love Is Where It Is" slinks along buoyed by an undercurrent that's vaguely like something Jobim would have penned.

I've sung the praises of The John Steel Singers before and Forster really seems to be enjoying having 2 of those guys bring some new musical shades to proceedings. There are nimble underpinnings to some of these tracks and Forster is assured at the forefront as both a musician and a songwriter. He can still pen something sorta pensive and vaguely Jimmy Webb-ish ("Turn on the Rain") and then turn right around and follow that on the record with something more upbeat and playful like "I Love Myself (And I Always Have)".

Songs to Play wraps up with "Disaster in Motion", a cut that very nearly sounds like a Nick Cave song, but one that's been stripped down to its core and recast as a near-acoustic slow-burner.

I still haven't entirely sussed out what he's on about in some of the lyrics of the tracks on Songs to Play by Robert Forster but that's okay 'cause I still play "Bye Bye Pride" or "You Can't Say No Forever" and scratch my head at certain points during those songs too. But, regardless of cryptic lyrics -- or maybe because of them -- those tunes still move me. And the songs on Songs to Play from Robert Forster will surely do the same. Holding its own as a fine collection, this album will earn Forster newer fans, reward older fans -- fans who might love him even more now -- but it will also captivate casual listeners of his earlier stuff. It is a remarkably consistent record and, frankly, I like it more than almost anything he's done on his own up until now. Rather than compete with his past glories, Forster has here sorta come to terms with his legacy and added to it. Songs to Play, out Friday on Tapete Records, is a set of sublime songs. I simply cannot imagine any Go-Betweens fan being disappointed in any way, large or small, with this fine collection of music.

Follow Robert Forster via his official website.