Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 13 Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 13 
Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express - The Go-Betweens

No band seems to exist in such a haze of wistful nostalgia as The Go-Betweens. Even at the time, the conversations about them seemed to revolve around the wonder that they hadn't yet cracked the charts and been swept into the hearts of millions on a wave of success. Perhaps its that sense of nostalgia that I now feel even more strongly in the music itself. This is a band that always seemed to be harking back to a garden somewhere, a garden they had to leave. They tried the apples but never made a deal with the snake. Or maybe they did.  For whatever about hits, The Go-Betweens seem to have bled pop. They just forgot the u, l, a and r.

Choosing my favourite was a straight choice between this and Spring Hill Fair. And it was only ever going to be this although Spring Hill Fair has Man O'Sand to Girl O' Sea and Bachelor Kisses and Draining the Pool for You and Five Words ... Wait, wait, can I change my mind? No, if I started that I'd be on a Merry-go-Round. I've read pieces picking out weak links on Liberty Belle but there isn't a song I don't love on it. As Vic Godard would say, that's Double Negative. Not that they haven't made other albums. They have, and they are all worth having.

The album begins with Spring Rain, which was also the first single and has a video which I never saw at the time.  I have previously written (On hearing of Grant McLennan's death) of my memories of watching the Go-Betweens playing Spring Rain in the spring rain at the cricket pitch in Trinity College, where I was studying literature and drunkenness (not in that order) at the time. Whatever, the song paints a picture, as their songs so often do, of a world that isn't complete without love.
"Here in my black shoes and me without a date
Me without hindsight, me without
When will change come, Just like Spring Rain"

The next song is The Ghost and the Black Hat and it too, pictures a life bereaved of love. After it comes The Wrong Road which for quite a while had me wondering exactly what the mechanics of this Scandinavian snog were, until I realised that it was a finished, and not a Finnish, kiss. It is one of the highlights amoung highlights. Again it is haunted by loss, or exile, or is it original sin, although the thing with original sin is that it's hardly original at all. Indeed, there is a phrase in Bachelor's Kisses that turns it on its head: "faithful's not a bad word".

To Reach Me seems to promise the healing of wounds, "Never thought I'd ever hear from you / My slapped face has healed / so has the misunderstanding" but rather than being present at a healing, it appears that the protagonists are simply picking at their old scabs so that they can get infected again.
Twin Layers of Lightning also features a couple who may just be bad for each other, and everyone close:
"If they invite us around
Well they're going to get a double act
We scream and we shout
And then we love and we turn
Then we set a chair on fire
And we watch the whole house burn"

In The Core of A Flame seems to be from a happier place and in Head Full of Steam to chase is more important than to catch and includes the lines that always come to my mind when I think of this album. "She plays hard to get along with / But she might drop by / She never had a nickname / But then nor have I." They seem to catch perfectly the awkwardness, the slightly fumbling charm of this album, lacking perhaps the energy of preceding albums or the smoothness of succeeding ones, but capturing loss, and uncertainty, and a wistful naivety, and honesty.

Bow Down seems to offer the benediction of time, with forgiveness flowing to and from the singer but Palm Sunday seems to be looking for forgiveness and Apology Accepted is directly asking for it, if fumblingly. "Too proud to hang my head / In shame beside your bed / But sometimes you want something / So bad, you'll grab anything / You said that's ridiculous / There's only one thing that precious." Both signal how easy it is to lose the love that makes life worth living. Apology Accepted is perhaps the high point of the album and always makes me think "It's time to turn it over and start again." I have done so, many times and imagine that this is an album I'll be playing as long as I keep my hearing. Maybe even afterwards, just to watch it spin.


  1. Another fine choice beautifully dissected Seamus.
    Love the idea of a deaf old man watching his favourite vinyl spin.
    There's a song there...

    1. Maybe on your next album Trevor - In State Care?

  2. It'll probably be written in situ...

  3. If I didn't know you weren't doing them in order you would have got a "too low" shout - having said that I've gone for a more commercial choice (can it still be commercial when it still sold diddly squat) It was very nearly this one for all the reasons you mention. There isn't a duff track on it and agree Apology nicks it as a highlight.

    Spring Rain convinced me there was nothing as stylish as black shoes and a white shirt. Although last time I saw them live RF was in a canary yellow suit

    Normally I don't like any darlings of the music press but Gobetweens were the exception . They kept getting set up , ready for the backlash that always comes. However as they never had any success that backlash for once never came.

    1. I guess all they could be accused of was aspiring to be commercial. I can't say I ever learnt to be stylish from anyone, t-shirts and jeans having been my costume of choice for a number of decades now. Robert's gear in the Head Full of Steam wouldn't really go with my expanding (and to be frank, already amply expanded) waistline.

    2. Expanding waistline?
      Beyond tutu?
      Ever heard of a mumu?

    3. In some Homeric tale, i believe I may have come across the famous muu muu. I once frightened my daughter into years of agoraphobia by threatening to wear one. Only thing was, it frightened me just as much.

    4. Ever heard of 'spell check' Seamus?
      This muu muu you came across... maybe you've misspelt 'Homoerotic'... do you have photos?
      And what's a couple of 'u's between friends?

  4. I'm more of a Tallulah man, but that is not a complaint. Wonderful band.

  5. I don't envy you. Choosing a favorite album from the Go-Betweens would have kept me up nights. Just thinking about it has me wiggling uncomfortably in my chair right now. Having said that, fine choice, sir.