CD Review of The Evangelist by Robert Forster
Recommended if you like
Edwyn Collins, Aztec Camera,
The Go-Betweens
Label
Yep Roc
Robert Forster:
The Evangelist

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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T
heir American impact never extended far beyond college playlists, but on most other shores, and Grant McLennan – better known as the Go-Betweens – have been conquering the hearts of forward-thinking pop fans since the early ‘80s. We Yankees like to think Australian pop culture only has room for Men at Work, INXS, and Paul Hogan, but Forster and McLennan’s work has earned each of them spots on that country’s list of favorite sons. For poignant proof of this, you need look no further than the beautiful tribute from the Australian Parliament occasioned by McLennan’s sudden death in 2006.

Now comes a more personal – and no less touching – tribute in the form of The Evangelist, Forster’s first solo album in a dozen years. He’s referred to the songs as telling “sort of a story,” which is true, if utterly understated; the album acts as a sweetly elegiac tip of the hat to his departed friend, not least because it contains a few bits of what was supposed to be the next Go-Betweens album. The best of those tracks is indisputably “Demon Days,” which Forster has called one of the best pieces of music McLennan ever wrote; here, it’s joined by Forster’s heartbreakingly lovely lamentations about “The dreams that we smoked / Puffed up and ran / As only dreams can / Dreamt by the young.”

Robert Forster

Yes, pop fans, it’s that type of album – the kind you can only get from a songwriter with a few years under his belt, and one who’s been fortunate enough to retain the sort of acuity needed to make worthwhile observations about such unwieldy topics as getting older, lost opportunity, and death. The Evangelist is sort of a kissing cousin to the late-period works of another Yep Roc artist, Nick Lowe; the album has the same sparse, subtle-to-a-fault aesthetic that Lowe used for The Impossible Bird and At My Age.

And like Lowe, Forster is too skilled a songwriter to leave his arrangements down in the dumps for long; in fact, some of The Evangelist’s saddest songs are up-tempo numbers. The lyrics are key – don’t pay close enough attention, and the album is liable to waft past you in a warm, gray blur, but give it an old-fashioned listen with your full attention – with the booklet in front of you, even – and you’ll come away feeling like you’ve made a new friend. The Evangelist has its weak spots – the title track, in particular, is a bit of a drone – but for fans of adult, low-key rock & roll, it’s bound to be one of the high points of the spring, if not the year. Here’s hoping Forster doesn’t take another 12 years to record his next album – and that when he returns, it’s under happier circumstances.

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