The Weekend Australian - Review - - Mu­sic Re­views - An­drew McMillen

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.

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