I thought I would take advantage of Nick’s non-appearance at round 52 to play something that I presumed he would have no interest in hearing seeing as it inhabits two of his musical blind spots – jangle-pop in general seems to get short shrift from Mr Southall and as the Go-Betweens hail from Australia, the chances of Liberty Belle offering much in the way of aural pleasure for him was always going to be slim. However, as it is my favourite album by one of my favourite bands, I always intended to bring it to record club at some point – this seemed like the ideal opportunity (if you’re reading this Nick and are gutted that you missed out on hearing what is one of the most exquisite indie pop albums ever made, I will happily lend you my copy…or you can, no doubt, find it on Spotify).
Liberty Belle was my first Go-Betweens album. I bought it in the wonderful Spring of 1993 having just returned from a year travelling through the band’s homeland. On reflection, the timing couldn’t have been more prescient. Liberty Belle offered the perfect soundtrack to those gloriously fresh yet warming days of a great British Spring and listening now I am instantly transported back to that time, a time of re-discovery, enjoying my old haunts as if they were new, having spent some time away, with fresh and excited eyes. The Go-Betweens always traded in melancholic nostalgia and never more so than on their majestic fourth album. Liberty Belle is crammed full of wistful melodies and sparkling, iridescent guitars and violins conjuring up a warmth and comfort that sounds as though it could be cloying and trite but, for me, is simply beautiful and so affecting that it is all I can do not to shed a tear as the closing bar of Apology Accepted shuffles off into the play out groove.
Strangely though, Liberty Belle also provides me with a nostalgia for an Australia I never actually experienced – a dustier, simpler land to the one I spent time in. It’s the Australia I wanted it to be rather than the one I found myself in. Maybe that’s part of the reason why this album resonates so deeply with me. And maybe it’s the Australia the band wanted to be in as they suffered the grey miserableness of life in grimy old London town, 12,o00 miles from home!
All the Go-Betweens albums I own are great but all bar Liberty Belle house at least one clunker, one track that makes me question the band’s ability to sift the wheat from the chaff. But Liberty Belle for me has no weak links at all, just ten perfect pop songs from the bright and breezy opener Spring Rain through to the aforementioned Apology Accepted. The songs are divided equally between Robert Forster and Grant McLennan (Oz’s answer to Lennon and McCartney?) and scattered throughout are musical and lyrical pearls. There is no point giving a track-by-track account of the album as, a bit like Sister Lovers by Big Star, choosing one above the other is almost impossible – they exist partly to complement each other, the best one is the invariably the one you’re listening to at that moment in time.
It’s hard for me to be objective about a record I hold so dear and, much like the albums by American Music Club, I can entirely see that Liberty Belle could never have claims to greatness within the pantheon – this is no Trout Mask Replica, Revolver, Blonde On Blonde or What’s Going On, the musical world did not shift off its axis upon its release – but that isn’t the point. Albums such as Liberty Belle, that have the capacity to drill into our deepest, hardest to reach emotions are the ones that I would always pull first from the fire. Remember Nick, the offer’s there should you ever feel the need…
Nick didn’t listen: It’s just jangle pop, isn’t it? It’s probably quite good if you like that stuff.
Rob listened: I never bonded with The Go-Betweens and so clearly the sort of life-long love affair Tom and the GBs have shared just wasn’t possible. At the time I think I wanted them to be as immediate as the Wedding Present, as intricate and enveloping as The Smiths and as otherworldly as R.E.M. Instead they were something else, something either too subtle, or just tuned differently to my teenaged ears. I’ve since spent very enjoyable hours with ‘Bellavista Terrace’, their Best Of… but this was the first of their albums proper I’ve given my full attention to. I really enjoyed it. Really really. I’ll listen again and maybe go further. But I’ll never get it as hard as Tom. Some bands just snag you at the perfect time and make a mark on your heart and if you miss them, you’ll never know what you could have had.