Monday, May 08, 2006

Is there ice in heaven?

I'm in shock.

Just found out moments ago that Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens died yesterday, at the age of 48. WTF, as the kids would say. Unknown causes, as of now.

I still remember picking up a review copy of his solo album Horsebreaker Star around the time it came out in the States (1995?) without knowing much if anything about him, and just being totally blown away by one beautifully crafted, ultra-hooky song after another. 19 of 'em on the U.S. version, even more on the original double-disc, which I still haven't heard. (That album was also one of my first glimpses of the many delights of Syd Straw, who sings backup on several tracks.) He knew how to write for the strengths of his voice, and his lyrics often had a surreal, poetic quality without screaming "surreal" or "poetic." I had been only vaguely familiar with the Go-Betweens during their first incarnation in the late 70s/early 80s, and eventually caught up with the re-releases, but I always preferred his solo discs, especially that first one I heard, which seemed to crystallize his talents better than anything before or since. Ten years after its release, it's safe to say it's one of my all-time favorite albums, even if I haven't played it all the way through for a while. (That's only because I loaned it to a friend at work about 5 years ago who never returned it, and I just recently bought a fresh copy.) Still haven't heard any of the G-Bs' post-reunion albums, though critics say good things about them.

Every time some new John Mayer/Conor Oberst/James Blunt comes along and sells buttloads of mediocre albums, I want to shake the people who buy them and say, "Look, if you like this, allow me to play you a few dozen other singer-songwriters who do something along the same lines but infinitely better and smarter and subtler and more interesting." And Grant McLennan is one of the first artists I'd play for them.

Shallow though it may sound, part of the initial hook for me was his total cuteness--not conventional rockstar looks by any means, which I intend as a compliment. I thought he was adorable, and for purely fetishistic reasons I find this one of the sexiest album covers of all time:

He was, needless to say, much more than a pretty face, as any listen to his best work will confirm. I wish he'd had more success in the U.S. I wish he'd lived another half century. And I hope his work continues to find new listeners for decades to come.

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