Still finding their way...
Travis Dubya McGee Bickle | Texas Quail Hunting Camp | 03/01/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"...Despite being a GoB fan of almost stalker-esque proportions, I don't rate this album...it doesn't work for me. I only have it to be a completist and for historical, archival purposes, geek that I am. I almost never pull it out to listen to. Here they are still kind of finding their sound, which at the time, was, at least to me, a fairly unoriginal, Talking Heads-y pastiche kind of thing. And don't get me wrong - this viewpoint informs their later music and shows you where they're from. It just doesn't add up to a very compelling listening experience.
This one is pretty much for zealots only..."
Caught in Flux
Lypo Suck | Hades, United States | 08/27/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Go-Betweens' 1st full-length shows the talented Forster/McLennan duo in a state of flux, caught between their early, 3-chord garage pop "Lee Remick" days, and the sublime, lilting melodic pop that would later make them legends. "SMaL" in many ways reflects the 80s art-punk trends of its time. Their simple Jonathan Richman-esque pop gave way to a difficult style fashionable in the early 80s, marked by convoluted structures, disjointed rhythms, and scratchy guitar melodies that alternate between beauty and dissonance. Bands like Gang of Four, the Raincoats, the Slits, the Birthday Party, and many others perfected this sound. The Go-Betweens managed this okay, but with hindsight we know the flowering of something much better and more refined lay ahead.
But what set the Go-Betweens apart was their knack for weaving together beautiful, delicate melodies, harmonizing the bass and guitar off of each other in a unique way that vaguely recalled Television. This melodic side was also comparable to the Cure's first album with its stripped-down, bare-bones sound and raw, early 20-something angst.
The standouts on this mixed bag display both melodic and disjointed characteristics, and when it works it has a chilling effect. "Careless" and "Ride" are both undoubtedly cold and strange, yet they drop heavy hints at the melodic direction that would bloom on the next album. "Hold your Horses" and "One Thing Can Hold Us" further demonstrate this embryonic sense of melody. However, songs like "Arrow in a Bow" are too self-consciously arty to work. Other instruments are occasionally thrown into the mix, like drunken piano on "Your Turn, My Turn" or atonal sax on "People Know." Lyrically, Robert Forster is wry and clever, displaying his trademark irony in spades. McLennan hadn't really started singing at this point; he's only on 2 songs, and his vocals show an endearing lack of confidence that he would soon overcome.
Buy this if you're into scratchy, offbeat, artsy post-punk, or if you're falling madly in love with the Go-Betweens and you've already got 2 or 3 other albums. It's an odd record, and the Go-Betweens have stated their own contempt for it in interviews, but it remains an intriguing stage in their development. The bonus disc is notable for a wealth of demos that didn't make it onto "SMaL.""