Songs to Play Robert Forster EMI Seven years after the release of The Evangelist, his largely downcast fifth solo album, Brisbanebased Robert Forster seems to have found joy again. The 10 tracks that comprise Songs to Play bustle with fun, wit and irony — traits that endeared that striped sunlight sound of his former pop band, the Go-Betweens, to so many.
In interviews surrounding its release, Forster has described his desire for this album to kick off his fourth act, since the third act ended with the sudden death of Go-Betweens co-founder Grant McLennan in 2006. Viewed through that lens, Songs to Play is as fine a fourth-act opener as any songwriter could hope for, let alone one aged 58 who has spent most of his life performing in public. The hooks are numerous and immediate: eminently quotable first track Learn to Burn bristles with every line amid a simple, effective guitar riff. During the second chorus, he sings an astute observation: “And as far as I can tell / The band is ready to blow”. He’s right: a line-up change has injected new energy into the writing and performance. New additions include two members of acclaimed Brisbane pop band the John Steel Singers, as well as Forster’s wife, Karin Baumler, who plays violin and sings (most notably on the wonderfully seductive Love Is Where It Is), while his 17 year-old son Louis contributes guitar.
The highlights are evenly spaced: besides the opener, A Poet Walks and Disaster in Motion, each appeals for vastly different reasons. The former has nervous energy and typically selfaware lyrics (“There are secrets that I could tell / But I won’t!”), before breaking into triumphant violin and trumpet solos, while the latter is a sixminute slow-burner that compels with little more than Forster’s voice, a mysterious story and a repeated acoustic guitar progression. Only one song falls flat: the dreary Turn on the Rain, which feels underworked and sticks out like a sore thumb amid an otherwise masterful collection.
Taken as a whole, Songs to Play signals a songwriter returning to claim his throne after seven years of concerning himself with other matters. The break has clearly benefited Forster, whose command of the form remains formidable.