And a river ran, and a train ran, and a dream ran…
I’d like to come out with guns blazing and make some sweeping statement about how The Evangelist is the best album released this century. I’d like to say how you are a fool if you have never heard this album and an even bigger fool if you don’t like it. I’d like to say that God himself won’t help you if “Demon Days” doesn’t make you a slightly better person. In reality, this album is so obscure and understated that it doesn’t really matter what I say. And also, I have just said it all anyway.
2008, I don’t get that year. It feels close and yet so far away. Close – because it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that Grant McLennan has been gone for eight years now. Far away – because music-wise Robert hasn’t released anything substantial since The Evangelist. And yet one can only imagine how hard it is for him to write music in a world without Grant. Even in the 90’s, when they released a string of largely underappreciated solo albums, they were operating within each other’s sight. It was, you felt, just a means to a new beginning. Which came in 2000 with The Friends Of Rachel Worth, a record that demonstrated once and for all what a comeback album should sound like.
The songs that make up The Evangelist were meant for a new Go-Betweens album, and that’s a disturbing thought. It was produced by the same people (Mark Wallis and Dave Ruffy) who produced 2005’s Oceans Apart. And perhaps the most poignant thing of all: The Evangelist has three last songs/melodies written by Grant McLennan. The melodic genius of “Demon Days”, so disarming in its heart-wrenching simplicity. The upbeat “Let Your Light In, Babe” that – I guarantee you – is one of the greatest ways to start a new day. The fast and bittersweet “It Ain’t Easy” whose violin near the two-minute mark is one of the most emotional moments in popular music. Lyrically, Forster dives for your heart.
Wallis and Ruffy don’t try to recreate the flashy, colourful production of Oceans Apart. For all its rich instrumentation (much of it is provided by Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson whose album from 2012 should be in your collection), The Evangelist does feel very understated. The charismatic minimalism of the opening “If It Rains” is the depth of Forster’s songwriting fully exposed. “A Place To Hide Away” is basically Robert strumming his acoustic guitar to a pretty three-chord tune and clever escapist lyrics. There’s also the wistful title track drenched in delicate orchestration rather than memorable vocal hooks. There’s the anthemic “Don’t Touch Anything” that alternates huge organ sound with unforgettable lyrical gems (the glove line is especially priceless). There are two more brilliant pop songs in “Pandanus” and “Did She Overtake You”, and that’s about it.
But not quite. Right when you think every possible peak has been reached, along comes “From Ghost Town” and haunts you down to your very guts. Christ if The Evangelist is to be his last album, it is some way to say goodbye. I’d give it all, though, to have another album from him. Robert Forster is one of the world’s very few artists able to prove that pop music can take on a personality. And vice versa. The Evangelist is his most fully realised statement.