Robert Forster - The Evangelist
A bit of reading soon filled in the blanks, regarding Forster's recent history and the circumstances surrounding the ending of his musical relationship with Grant McLennan, after I had listened to it a few times and decided I was going to buy it. That reading provided some explanation for the rather strange tone of the album. Without paying attention to the lyrics, you pretty quickly get the idea that this is an album of almost optimistic melancholy - a watershed has been passed, and while it is appropriate to spend some time looking back and what was and what has been lost, it is also a time for looking forward to new developments. As a result, some of the songs are entirely self-penned while others, three of them, were co-written with McLennan for a new album before he died of a heart attach in 2006.
Most of the tracks on this album can be divided into two categories. On the one hand there are the slower, more folk numbers, and on the other, there are the quicker, more poppy numbers. Yet all of the songs are simple and straightforward, free of complication or unnecessary embellishment. At no time does Forster sink into the maudlin or the self-pitying on those tracks which may be called the retrospective ones, and those are the last two tracks on the album, "It Ain't Easy" and "From Ghost Town".
"Demon Days" and the aforementioned "It Ain't Easy" are songs which pay tribute to the past, without a sense of longing or regret. Yet Forster is strongest when he looks forward. Here the songs are upbeat, even cheerful. "Pandanus" is the strongest track on the album but perhaps the most significant in this regard is, musically and lyrically, "Let Your Light in, Babe". The jangly, almost country-style guitar is matched by a lyric which mirrors Forster's own new start with the new start of the woman and her child who are new to the town. Forster's offer to let them stay with him is reflective of his own personal catharsis over McLennan's passing.
In truth, this is a hard album to dislike, but it is a difficult album to get beneath the skin of. It is as if Forster wants you to like it, but not to like it too much. In that regard, he has been completely successful. I have listened to this several times and still feel ambivalent about it. There are parts I enjoy immensely, but other aspects of it have little or no impact upon me. It seems as if this is an album which is to be listened to sporadically over a period of time to allow the various parts of it to sink in and grow. Maybe it will grow on me with time, but for now it retains the status of an occasionally pleasant diversion in places.
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