|Robert Forster's Warm Nights (Beggars Banquet)
Hear the Bugs Biting Down to the Seed
Robert Forster's new album, Warm Nights, is another off-kilter gem from the
co-founder of Australia's elegant pop masterminds, the Go-Betweens. The songs
on this fourth solo record (third with original songs) offer more of Forster's
surreal lyricism and warm personality, the latter keeping his latent archness
from taking over. Years of soaking up Dylan and Bryan Ferry, among other sly
vocalists, have taught him how to harness the essential awkwardness of his
voice to create dramatic, deadpan effects.
Warm Nights, like the equally
brilliant Danger in the Past, where he was backed by Mick Harvey and other
members of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, is atmospheric and heart felt. But unlike
Danger, this record is groovy. Perhaps this is because Edwyn Collins was on
board as producer and guitarist. Collins, the legendary, deep crooning leader
of 80's popsters Orange Juice (and 1995's most unlikely MTV hitmaker) brings a
certain buoyancy and loping quaver to the mix. Especially on the wacked
opener, "I Can Do," and the compelling title track that follows hard upon.
In the first, a spare but sinuous guitar line and muted drums open up a space for
Mr. Suave himself to recite a rhythmic ditty with clipped precision. In this
delicate song, the idea of Africa emerges as both a literal reference and in
Forster's repeated, chant-like recitation of the title's words. "Warm Nights,"
which follows, finds a similar groove but rides it into deeper waters. Here
Forster's wordplay really pays off, beckoning the listener into his own
private cinema where we "Hear the bugs biting down to the seed/Hear the dopers
tripping on their weed." (Am I the only one out there that thinks he sounds
like Julian Cope on this one?)
"Cryin' Love," the single off the album (which
charted in Australia), is campy blue-eyed soul, all sturm and drang drollery.
A good time is had by all on this one. Other standouts, like "Snake Skin Lady"
and "On a Street Corner," offer up the dark romantic lyricism that has
nourished Forster's small, rabid fan base for years. Both are uncrowded,
highly personal, and theatrical. "Fortress," with its oompah-band backing, and
"Jug of Wine," with its playfully goofy organ riff a la Paul Schaeffer (David
Letterman's righthand asshole) are the "experimental" numbers. While
definitely entertaining, they are, in the end, a bit inconsequential. But
that's good in the context in which they appear.
The two shiniest pop sides are "Loneliness" and the "controversial" remake of the Go-Betweens' "Rock and
Roll Friend." Both deliver the Dylanesque, country/folk rock flavor that has
framed some of Forster's most touching work in the past. "I'll Jump," the
punchy fade-out to what I consider one of this year's best albums, resists
closure, whetting the appetite of those of us waiting for this eccentric pop
genius's next homegrown masterpiece.