Saturday, April 26, 2008

“The Evangelist” – Robert Forster

“The Evangelist” contains ample evidence that Robert Forster can escape the mythology of the Go-Betweens and one day make the best music of his life.

Obviously, the album still has one foot in the Go-Betweens camp.

Three songs feature lyrical and musical contributions by Grant McLennan, and the last version of the band supplies bassist Adele Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson.

On the other hand, the Go-Betweens as an active band had to die the day Grant died, and “The Evangelist” is the first recorded acknowledgement of this fact.

Recent interviews with Robert have suggested that Grant has been spiritually present in the recording of the album and will watch over the band as they play live.

However, just as the album acknowledges Grant, it points a way forward for Robert.

On this album, we witness Robert coping with loss, cementing foundations, building new bridges and exploring what lies beyond.

“If It Rains”

On the first track, Robert expresses his acceptance of the present, while at the same time speculating about what the future offers.

He sounds like a farmer living on the edge of the desert, dealing with the reality of the drought and speaking of rain as if there is a strong possibility it might never come.

He has hardened himself, so that if the rain never comes, he will be strong enough to deal with it.

Of course, if it does rain, you sense that the landscape will blossom.

Musically, the song is built on simple melodies that combine and aspire until they could fill a cathedral in which people worship our ability to survive and thrive and create.

It’s a nice touch that in the last 30 seconds we hear a storm approaching.

“Demon Days”

This is the first of the songs co-written with Grant.

It’s impossible to work out how much was written by Grant and how much was added by Robert.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.

It is melancholy, but only because it places itself in the very moment of realisation that “something’s not right, something’s gone wrong”.

Fate has taken us from the perception of daylight to the darkness of night.

The dreams of youth have gone up in smoke and we don’t yet know why.

If Grant wrote the whole of the lyrics, you’ll be heartbroken just speculating about the events that could have caused him to write it.

If Robert captured the essence of the song’s potential, then it expresses everybody’s frustration that there was no second chance to get it right. No opportunity to wake again the next morning and start again.


To the extent that “Demon Days” expresses the negativity of the situation, “Pandanus” asserts a more positive view.

At the same time, when day turns into night, Robert finds himself among the pandanus palms at some beach, I can only imagine it was Noosa.

Only now, the going down of the sun has “taken your troubles somewhere, somewhere”.

Both songs bear witness to mysteries we can’t comprehend. Something’s not right now, but later our troubles have gone “somewhere”.

“Pandanus” has a fantastic chugging beat as well as chiming melodies that are bound to make it a live favourite.

If there was any justice in this world, it could be a hit single.

“Did She Overtake You”

This is a deceptively simple song about sexual politics that playfully asks who outsmarted who and who got outsmarted.

Either way, she’s happily making it without you, and therein probably lies the answer.

“The Evangelist”

If “Overtake You” marks a change of theme, it continues on the title song.

Yet again, there are beautiful melodies (supplemented by piano, cello and violin) in the employ of a song about faith and trust in a relationship.

It’s obviously about his German wife Claudia and their move to Australia.

I always respected Robert’s decision to live in Germany for the sake of their relationship, but it must have taken equal courage to ask her to bring their family here.

Robert expresses it in a typically simple progression: “please try and follow me, I thought it was better for us, there was gold in that dust, let’s sail into this life, I thought it was better for us, I believe in us”.

I might be wrong, but in this progression is a movement from selfishness to selflessness, a movement from me to us.

Robert might have lost a relationship of over 30 years, but he is fortunate to have another one (or more) that forms the basis of his future.

Whatever “The Evangelist” might be about, one of its concerns is the importance of friendship and family.

“Let Your Light In, Babe”

This is another collaboration, although this time it’s a flirtatious, mandolin-driven tale of sexual attraction with a bit of the feel of R.E.M.’s “Shiny, Happy People”.

Thanks to Adele for the mandolin.

“A Place to Hide Away”

This initially comes across as a minor throwaway, but looks can be deceptive.

I suspect Robert received many offers of assistance to help him deal with the loss of Grant.

The song finds him contemplating hiding away in a walled city in Greece. Then again, in the same breath (Leonard Cohen-like), he imagines taking someone else there to hide away with.

“Don’t Touch Anything”

This is probably the most overtly Dylanesque song on the album.

It has all of the swirling intensity of “Idiot Wind” off “Blood on the Tracks”.

And like that album, even though he is now married and presumably untouchable, there is a sense of the loss of a past, perhaps youthful relationship, one in which he never had any doubts.

It’s probably a song where to quest for any greater personal meaning would be to ignore the significance of the title.

“It Ain’t Easy”

This seems to be a combination of Grant’s effusive music and Robert’s grateful, but mournful lyrics.

It’s Robert’s thank-you for Grant’s sly grin, will to win and a “dream that ran through everything”.

“From Ghost Town”

On the closing track, perhaps the streets of our town now belong to a Ghost Town, in which David wrote in a goodbye note, “It’s all different now”.

It’s widely suspected that this is about Grant’s death.

At this stage, I’d prefer to think it’s not, I’d prefer to believe that its beauty is an act of the imagination, a profound way to close an album, not a life.

I look forward to the next epistle from this “Evangelist”.