The Go-Betweens, 'Bright Yellow, Bright Orange' (Jetset)

8
Bright Yellow, Bright Orange
Critical Mass
Label: Jetset

by Sasha Frere-jones

It started out as a feeling, and now it sounds like a fact: Bands don't have to age badly. Even the Go-Betweens' young 1981 rock sounded, if not old, then happy to spend the night at home with a good chair. Main songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, both 45, sound younger now that they've brought their band back from deep freeze. Bright Yellow is their second Mark II album, this time recorded with a new lineup (not including Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, who helped organize the first Mark II album, 2000's The Friends of Rachel Worth).

As musicians, Forster and McLennan value the direct: no distortion, low dynamics, keep the singing like speaking. Their sound is round and lucid, foregrounding the voices without throwing a blanket over the guitars. And as writers, they wait to catch their subjects--confused lovers, scared parents, disappointed humans--turning their emotional pockets inside out, looking for the note that explains why they've ended up where they are. "Caroline & I" unfolds slowly, but only to make you question its title: The narrator and Caroline were born in the same year, but were they lovers? Siblings? Is she dead? "Too Much of One Thing" could be the autobiography of indie rock itself, a celebration of small stakes and big emotions. "In Her Diary" could be about Mrs. Dalloway or simply a gloss on this album's "Mrs. Morgan," a fortune-teller who "never wanted to see the rain." Bright Yellow is the soundtrack for a small town, like New York, where everybody knows too much about everybody else, "and everyone's defeated / As the light just shivers down."

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