Trying to peg the Australian sound had been difficult to say the least. I had grown up hearing the country turned disco of Olivia Newton John, then the quirky pop of Men at Work. By the late ’80s, the Australian sound had grown dark with Midnight Oil and The The and finally evolved to the arena pop of INXS. But by far the most interesting band from Down Under for me would be the pride of Brisbane: The Go Betweens.
By the time the band had been exposed to America via MTV, they had released their third studio album Spring Hill Fair years ago. As a band with only import releases in America, catching up to their catalog took time and patience.The album was named for co band leader Robert Foster’s memory of a childhood fair in Spring Hill, Queensland. Spring Hill Fair would have elements of fuzzy Beatlesque melancholy thanks to gentle arrangements that recalled a wet Spring day.
‘Bachelor Kisses’, the most notable of four singles from the album featured the backing vocals of Ana da Silvia. Her voice lent a ghostly ’60s vintage to the sound and would be part of a trend adding dimension to the indie band’s sound. From that point on, The Go Betweens would use other female backup singers like Tracey Thorn before settling on Amanda Brown as the fifth and only female member of the band.
While the Go Betweens often had pleasant sounding guitar, bass and drum led arrangements, their lyrics often displayed a bit of sarcasm and sometimes dark humor not unlike the Smiths as in the song ‘Drainng the Pool for You’. The restrained emotional tension in either Robert Foster or Grant McLennan’s voices gave Spring Hill Fair a mildly disturbing, but pleasing contrast to the soft strings based sound.
On occasions the pace and tempo went beyond the calm to suggest the more ragged roots of their earliest records. Spring Hill Fair may have been more conventional, but it had some of the band’s most interesting yet accessible songs to date.
The mild funk of ‘Part Company’ features the squeal of a high pitched keyboard behind a syncopated melody. It’s just one of the pleasant surprises from Spring Hill Fair. The equal billing of both Foster and McLennan’s vocals and guitar work added new found depth to the band with Spring Hill Fair. This partnership with the addition of female backing vocals marked the beginning of a more commercial sound for the band leading to a peak in the late ’80s and early ’90s.