This is us as a Seventies band,” Robert Forster writes in the liner notes for the Go-Betweens’ 78 ’til 79 The Lost Album, a collection of early studio and home recordings. What he means, to be exact, is an ingenuous, bare-bones ’70s pop band—a surprisingly flattering guise, as it turns out, for these often oblique ’80s folk-rock romantics. (Bellavista Terrace, a new Beggars Banquet compilation, though less comprehensive than the now import-only 1978–1990, is a no-miss primer.)
The five studio tracks on Lost Album include goofy, star struck first single “Lee Remick” (“She was in The Omen/With Gregory Peck/She got killed/What the heck”) and “Karen,” a literal, literary ode to a librarian. The others were all recorded on two-track in the Brisbane bedroom of 21-year-old all-round precocious pop fop Forster. They certainly sound like bedroom recordings, not just because they’re muffled and off-key, but because of their youthful, almost insular presumptuousness: you can hear a young man who’s soaked up plenty of Dylan, Richman, and Verlaine, and obsessed over them.
Crude and obvious though it may be, The Lost Album is an instructive artifact, and all Forster’s show—future equal partner Grant McLennan cowrites only two songs. Forster’s skewed perspective on love is already in place, though not the to-die-for specificity that both he and McLennan would later master. The words are blunt and jokey, the music equally uncomplicated. The first proper Go-Bs album, 1982’s Send Me a Lullaby, was artier, punkier, and musically and emotionally obscure. You could say everything that followed was about searching out a fruitful middle ground between these two early extremes.