Led by introverted pop-aesthete Robert Forster and his writing foil Grant McLennan, The Go Betweens had been in exile for five largely unrewarding years in London by the time they chose to return to Sydney in late 1987 to write the sixth and final album of their first incarnation, 16 Lovers Lane.
As part of the process bassist Robert Vickers’ departure left an open door for the former punk John Willsteed to replace him and whilst the band licked their wounds, something unique happened – for the first and only time in McLennan and Forster’s sometimes difficult relationship as peers, the former wrote a song without consulting the latter. It was brilliant too. Streets of Your Town was a honeyed synthesis that captured an Australia in transition; nominally about Brisbane, with the backdrop of a country that had skyscrapers now reaching for the sky, demolition and darkness lurked beneath the surface, as amongst the elegant riffs McLennan crooned “See the butcher shine their knives/And this town is full of battered wives”.
On first hearing Forster was irked, partially because it sounded like the one thing the group had never managed and needed more than anything – a hit. With the addition of a gorgeous solo from Willsteed that evoked doomed flamenco romanticism, this most awkward of propositions were finally ready to embrace a wider audience: except it never happened as the album’s much anticipated first single ended up a commercial damp squib. Eighteen months later, they were no more. Their legacy, whether it was about Brisbane, or Sydney, or anywhere else as the 20th century began to be erased, Streets Of Your Town captured something intuitively whole about the savagery of progress – and the isolation of those that get left behind by it.