If a song by the Go-Betweens was dark, deep and poetic, and packed with psychological insight, chances are that it was one of Robert Forster’s. They worked so well because, although they might have taken slightly longer to filter into your psyche, they then stuck there and complemented Grant McLennan’s more melodic compositions. Though previous albums have shown off these qualities to some extent, Songs To Play does this in spades, by collecting around Robert another set of sympathetic collaborators - in this case, Scott Bromiley and Luke McDonald from Brisbane’s John Steel Singers and Robert’s wife Karin (on vocals and violin) as well as son Louis on guitar.
It’s a mature album but then he’s the guy who told the NME in the 80s that he deliberately had his hair coloured grey so he could look like Dynasty’s Blake Carrington. He’s always been an old soul, and here he’s grown into it. In ‘Let Me Imagine You’ he rejects modern aids like Twitter in favour of the imagination: “please don’t tell me/ let me dream and guess”. ‘Learn To Burn’ is picaresque and Dylanish, and a confessional stream of consciousness that reminds you to linger and enjoy his words: “you can miss detail when you’re in a hurry”. ‘Love Is Where It Is’ has a bossanova rhythm while ‘I Love Myself (And I Always Have)’ is typical tongue-in-cheek Robert, with a lovely country twang. The closing track ‘Disaster In Motion’ harks back to the Go-Betweens, starting with a strong echo of 1984’s ‘Bachelor Kisses’ (a Grant song) with a long and elegiac send off (for fully half of its 6 minutes) that repeats, mantra-like “what we had” in a tone of first sombre, then celebratory effect.
It’s a record that continues a fine line of records, reminding you of Robert’s talents but also echoing, and making peace with, that Go-Betweens history which he is now so fabulously curating. It’s contemporary but contains delicate reflections of the past that he and Grant constructed. As they once sang (with words by Grant): “love goes on”.