The history of contemporary music is littered with high drama and over the top behaviour. The path to rock ’n’roll infamy is paved with imploding bands, bad behaviour, reckless acts and personal feuds. That side of history might make good copy and is thus assured the column inches in the press but the reality for most bands is very different indeed. It is generally one of hard work and dedication punctuated with moments of genius, a slow fade out and a long wait before attaining the title of cult band. The story of The Go-Betweens follows just such a pathway and because of its lack of intensity and intrigue is probably more valuable a document for those wishing to understand the reality of the music business.
It is the story of two friends and their journey from misfit duo writing remarkable and unconventional pop songs to a five-piece band making often brilliant and always underrated albums. Robert Forster and Grant McLennan were as important to the Australian post-punk landscape as bands such as Joy Division or The Smiths were half a world away and their story is told here through a series of recent and retrospective talking head sequences from ex-band members, family and fellow musicians indisposed with video reminders of just what a startling band they were. Success, failure, romance, break-ups, betrayal, triumph and tragedy all have their place in the tale but it all seems relatable, human…almost normal.
The band’s legacy is a string of worthy albums rather than widely purchased singles and after 13 years of trying to catch a break in their homeland, England and The USA, the inevitable happened, possibly hastened on by the fact that the band ended up being based around two relationships, two mindsets and two directions of travel.
But unlike many sonic sagas it is a story with a second chapter, one that saw the two main players remember why they needed each other, why it worked in the first place, why they were friends and with enough time to health the 2000’s saw three albums being hailed as returns to form by the press. It was a second bite of the cherry cut short only by the unexpected death of Grant McLennan in 2006, ironically soon after the release of an album which would be critically and commercially their most successful.
For fans of the band it is a must. For people interested in indie and eighties music or the Australian underground scene, again a definite purchase. But I would add that even if you are not too familiar with the band but want a window into how the vast majority of artists spend their careers, the highs, the lows and everything in between then as a cultural record and a look under the bonnet of a working band you will find no better music documentary.