As the sunnier, poppier half of the Go-Betweens’ singer/songwriter team, Brisbane native Grant McLennan established himself as an incisive lyricist and a crafty melodicist. In his solo career, he’s maintained, and in some instances surpassed, the standards he set with his former band.
Before striking out completely on his own, McLennan followed the Go-Betweens with Jack Frost, a collaboration with Steve Kilbey of the Church. Jack Frost reflects the salient qualities of both men’s prior work while maintaining a distinctive sound and attitude of its own, working in styles ranging from dark, uneasy gloom-rock (“Every Hour God Sends,” “Number Eleven”) to lighter acoustic-based fare (“Civil War Lament,” “Thought That I Was Over You”).
Watershed finds McLennan’s lyrical acuity to be intact but his supply of hooks dwindling. He unwisely downplays his pop instincts in favor of a more singer/songwriterly air. Fireboy, on the other hand, offers a near-perfect convergence of observant, passionate words and jangly, surging tunes: “Lighting Fires,” “One Million Miles From Here,” “Whose Side Are You On?”
Horsebreaker Star, the relaxed, richly organic magnum opus, is something of a left turn — but very much in the right direction. Recorded in Athens, Georgia with R.E.M. pal John Keane and a cast of local players (plus guest vocalist Syd Straw), it’s a masterful quilt of warmly haunting songcraft (“Ice in Heaven,” “All Her Songs”), nervy jangle-rock (“Dropping You,” “Put You Down”) and quiet turbulence (“I’ll Call You Wild,” “Horsebreaker Star”). Released overseas as a 24-track double CD, the album’s US edition deletes — without major damage — six tracks (including a nice cover of the Byrds’ “Ballad of Easy Rider”) but adds Fireboy‘s “Lighting Fires.” In either incarnation, Horsebreaker Star is a gem all the way through.
McLennan returned to more familiar pop-rock territory with In Your Bright Ray. While songs like “Comet Scar” are pleasant and expertly executed, the album offers little in the way of standouts.