One of the benefits of MTV (when it played music) was that it exposed American audiences to bands that would have only been heard on obscure college radio stations. The Australian based Go Betweens was one of those bands. Quite possibly the best of all the Australian musical imports, the Go Betweens owe their rise in America in part to MTV.
The cruel irony of all of this new exposure was that for eager new fans like myself who would trek over to the campus record stores looking for the new Go Betweens album, the only option was an expensive import.
That was the still the case with 1986’s Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express. The band’s back catalog was starting to get radio airplay while their fourth album would be featured on MTV. “Spring Rain” was typical of a new sprightlier Go Betweens. Song writing was still split between the band’s two creative forces Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. McLennan’s influence on the bands otherwise sober melancholy is heard in the form of a more upbeat production.
The new urgency made Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express brighter and happier than any previous Go Betweens album. It was also self-produced, giving the members the ability to record in a relaxed atmosphere. The resulting set of songs got favorable reviews in addition to being the most liked Go Betweens album from the band itself.
The pop sensibility and infusion of jolliness did not distract from the signature jangle guitar sound infused with melancholy, a sound once described as a blend of Patty Smith and The Smiths. The rain soaked and brooding nature of the Robert Forster/Grant McLennan duo on “Twin Layers of Lightning” was a link to the past and could have been on any one of the darker earlier albums.
Although only one song “Spring Rain” would qualify as a hit, it was enough to get The Go Betweens on modern rock radio playlists. The general tone of Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express would be duplicated on the more successful Tallulah in the following year. By that time a new Go Betweens album was no longer an expensive import due to a domestic release deal.
After a short brush with success, Forster and McLennan would go their separate ways with solo careers, leaving the Go Betweens behind.