Friday, May 24, 2019

Robert Forster, Inferno, 2019

Album Review

By Henry Lipput

Australian singer-songwriter Robert Forster's new album, the splendid Inferno, is his first solo album in four years and his third since 2008's The Evangelist. Actually it's his seventh overall if you count the four albums he released between Phase I and II of the great Go-Betweens which ended with the untimely death of Forster's bandmate and co-founder Grant McLennan 13 years ago. The wonderful compilation Intermission collects songs from both of their solo careers between 1990 and 1997.

Inferno was recorded in Berlin and produced by Victor Van Vugt who also engineered Forster's first solo album Danger In The Past in 1990. Also working with Forster again are Brisbane-based multi-instrumentalists Scott Bromley and violinist Karin B√£umler from Songs To Play (2015) as well as drummer Earl Havin and keyboardist Michael Muhlhaus.

In an interview with the Near Perfect Pitch podcast, Forster described Inferno as a "performance record." "It's four of us playing in the room," he said. And you can hear the interplay between Foster and the other musicians. You can also hear it in his vocals which, in many songs, have a looseness that shows he's in the groove and might even be having some fun.

For example, on the opening track, the bluesy "Crazy Jane On The Day Of Judgement," he sings in a near falsetto on the lines "Take the sour / If you take me / I can scoff and lour / And scold for an hour." And in the last verse there's an impassioned tone to his voice.

The standard-waiting-to-happen "I'll Look After You" has a small jazz ensemble sound and a gentle vocal from Forster. "I'll look after you / Tell yourself that I could help you to see / That it could be me." But he's not asking someone to be his partner; instead he's asking her to come back which gives the song a much different meaning.

"Life Has Turned A Page" has a bossa-nova feel to it and is the kind of story song at which Forster is so good; it reminds me of the terrific "Let The Light In Babe" from his The Evangelist album. "I'm Gonna Tell It" has a funky groove, a swooping violin, and call-and-response backing vocals. I'm just not sure if Forster actually gets around to telling us what he promises to tell us. "No Fame" has a old Go-Betweens sound like "Draining The Pool For You" and other classic Forster gems from that period.

"Inferno (Brisbane in Summer)" rocks like a 50's Sun session and has the kind of piano playing that George Martin added to Beatles' recordings like "Long Tall Sally." There's also some blistering electric guitar work on the track. "The jungle is coming up to the door / The birds that are calling are hard to ignore," Forster sings in a voice like David Byrne. If it doesn't yet sound as if the song is about global warming it certainly does here: "The jungle is coming / And so is the drought / The people are screaming / 'Let me out!'"

Inferno is out now on Tapete Records.

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