Forever Breathes the Lonely Word (Creation 1986)


You’ve got to have some chutzpah to adorn yourself with the singular moniker of Lawrence and then aim for a Vulcan mind meld with Tom Verlaine and Bob Dylan and try to make it big in an England enamored with the Smiths, the Jam and New Order. Of the three bands, the Smiths were the closest to being their kindred spirits as both bands relied heavily on frontmen well-versed in alienation and understated, but nimble guitarists who wrenched the maximum amount of emotion and expression out of each successive jangle. However, the script was flipped when Deebank walked out of the band and Lawrence enlisted organist Martin Duffy to be his new foil. You wouldn’t think an organist would be a suitable focal point in the indie scene of 80s England, but his addition resulted in their most straightforward, accessible and focused album in Forever Breathes the Lonely Word. What was once lighter than air gained some body and gravitas and provided a perfect canvas for Lawrence to indulge his infatuation with Dylan and Verlaine as Duffy jams out in his own mellow manner.

Where Morrissey was busy pondering his awkwardness in his own skin and a passive-aggressive relationship with love, Lawrence pursued a more philosophical, literary bent. He tosses off references to the Iliad, the Bible and the mythical isle of Avalon and portrays a series of nihilistic protagonists who aim for the heavens knowing full well that they will fall short of happiness. The opener “Rain of Crystal Spires” is most definitely one of their catchiest tunes, but the lyrics are devoted to the pursuit of lowering your expectations. It’s hapless hero chases beauty and perfection only to be shot down by his paramour and be told that he’s the kind of fellow that the sun will never shine upon. Instead of fighting it, he accepts his wayward fate and this embrace of misery and failure echoes throughout the album. Forever Breathes the Lonely Word is the most charming, intelligent, well-read gentleman in the room that never gets the girl because life has taught him too much about the nature of humanity. I guess that is why he includes a lovely ditty about how everyone worthy of his time is already six feet under. Lawrence was an idealist and the present was far too inferior to the angelic shine of what could have been in a perfect world. The imperfect one in which we all exist was one deflating bother. Thankfully, this conflict is what imbues this album with an epic grandeur even if it tackles that same lovesick themes as his peers. Everyone loves a misanthropic romantic. God knows I do.

Go-Betweens-16 Lovers Lane

October 30, 2009

The Go-Betweens

16 Lovers Lane (1988 Beggars Banquet)


Believe it or not, this red-blooded American once identified so closely with the sexless indifference of Morrissey that it resembled some wayward strain of Stockholm Syndrome. This is sad and ironic since my high school existence was most assuredly sexless, but jam-packed with nothing but lust and longing. Even during those low points where I found misguided parallels with these paeans to abstinence and restraint, there was something empty about this perpetual cock blocking because all I really wanted to do was race down the street and make awkward conversation with any and all females who would tolerate my formative flirting. All of this seems ridiculous now, but there was a purity to those moments when love was a blank canvas yet to be stained by a single stroke. However, those squeaky clean moments pale in comparison to the richness of a wrinkled and stained life where one can reflect upon the hullabaloo that was their life and the lessons learned in the process.

Therefore, I now harbor an unadulterated love for a similar minded group of misanthropes and romantics that fixate on the bruises and stains instead of Morrissey’s porcelain and pale. The Go-Betweens bored me to tears in my 20s as their dour, slow-motion ruminations on mortality and regret seemed too monochrome for my florescent fantasies of bob hairdos and sassy lasses. Let’s just say that my winding road is littered with potholes and the Go-Betweens weather-beaten tales now ring so true that I feel naive for ever thinking that a homoerotic “come hither” like the Smiths’ “Hand in Glove” could ever be my anthem for an afternoon.

16 Lover Lane, their sixth album, isn’t even my favorite, but it the one I revisit most since it best captures the knot in your stomach one gets when in the midst of a difficult decision. Its protagonists roll the dice and either revel in ecstatic summits or tumble down into depression as a result. In short, it is an album about fucking up and making up. This duality seems apt since the band’s musical and lyrical identity was also split between two distinct forces, Robert Forster and Grant McClennan. Yeah, their respective songs were both pretty bleak, but McClellan always seemed to aim for a much lighter shade of gray. Both sing about spilled mik, but McClennan wipes it up while Forster shrugs and walks away in resignation.

Just see how each tackles heartbreak. “Dive for Your Memory” turns rejection into an ode to building new homes on old rubble. It reminisces on history, then uses it as fodder for new campaigns. However, the lyrical flipside can be found in “Clouds” which gets beaten and lays on the canvas feeling sorry for itself. Where Morrissey openly pined in isolation, Forster and McClennan fought, fucked and loved and sat down to tell you that life is goddamn gorgeous, not a piddling chore. It might piss on your leg on occasion and cause you to wear pajamas for 48 hours from time to time, but it was ultimately a lovely tumble that left you dizzy and smitten.