Robert Forster

Danger In The PastDanger In The Past
From Ghost TownThe Evangelist
Learn To BurnSongs To Play
I Love Myself (And I Always Have)Songs To Play
The RoadsThe Candle And The Flame
If It RainsThe Evangelist
Demon DaysThe Evangelist
Let Your Light In BabeThe Evangelist
Let Me Imagine YouSongs To Play
Tender YearsThe Candle And The Flame



Robert Forster playlist



Contributors: Andrew Shields & Glenn Smith

Andrew Shields

Robert Forster first came to prominence with the Australian indie band, the Go-Betweens. During his time with them, he established himself as a very fine songwriter and a highly effective, if unorthodox, joint frontman. In the group, he shared the songwriting responsibilities with Grant McLennan, whose skills as a writer perfectly complemented his own. Indeed, the strength of their partnership meant that Forster at first struggled to establish himself as a solo artist. This was particularly the case during the years between the group’s break up in 1989 and their reformation – albeit with a new line up where he and McLennan were the only remaining members from the original band – in 2000.

While the albums he recorded during this period were interesting enough – and they contained some excellent songs – it was clear that they were very much ‘transitional’ efforts. The strongest of them was probably his debut, Danger In The Past, which was produced by Mick Harvey of the Birthday Party and Bad Seeds fame. It also included sympathetic backing from Harvey himself on bass, organ, guitar and percussion and Hugo Race on lead and rhythm guitar.

I have chosen the title track from it as my first selection. It clearly shows Forster’s ability to draw deft character sketches which, in the space of a five-minute song, can carry as much weight as many a short story or novel. Although it includes some characteristically witty lines (such as “never show your problems in a country town” and “I went back to my own city to find that I’d made enemies while I was away”), it tells an essentially sombre story of visiting a friend who has seemingly been admitted to a mental institution. This brooding quality is heightened by the superb and slightly ominous piano and bass lines which underlie it. As good as this recording is, however, it’s a song which really comes to life in live performance, as these two very different ones show:



The second phase of Robert Forster’s solo career began in 2008, two years after McLennan’s tragically early and sudden death. The album he released that year, The Evangelist, still stands as perhaps his finest work outside of the Go-Betweens. It also can be seen as an extended farewell to his friend and songwriting partner. This is most evident in my next selection, From Ghost Town, which is an elegy for Grant. It also features one of Forster’s most beautiful melodies and ends with a plaintively sad harmonica solo. In it, Forster also refers in a sensitive way to some of the personal problems which Grant had experienced during his life – a subject which he explored further in his excellent book, “Grant & I”.

Another aspect of The Evangelist, however, is Forster’s clear awareness that it marks a ‘changing of the guard’. This reflected his understanding that McLennan’s death would compel him to embrace the role of solo artist in a way he might not otherwise have done. The albums he has made since then all possess a sense of self-confidence which was not always present in his previous solo work. One consequence of this is that they all display his keen wit in a far more assured way than those previous albums had done.


This can be seen in my next two selections, Learn To Burn and I Love Myself (And I Always Have), both from 2015’s Songs To Play (see above). They are fine example of Forster’s superb ability to put an ironic twist on the lyric he is delivering (a skill he shares with other great songwriters like Bob Dylan and Lou Reed). Indeed, from his deadpan delivery, it is sometimes hard to know when he is being satirical or sincere. Of the two, Learn To Burn has a keenly propulsive quality and features an excellent violin part by Forster’s wife. Karin. By contrast, I Love Myself displays a side of Forster’s personality which was well captured in this classic song by Dave Graney.


Robert Forster’s most recent CD, The Candle And The Flame (2023), is quite different from most of his previous work. It is far more intimate, raw, and emotional than is usual with his albums. Forster recorded it after Karin was diagnosed with cancer, although most of its songs were written before her diagnosis. It is also very much a family affair with Karin herself playing xylophone and providing backing vocals, and their son Louis and daughter Loretta playing lead and rhythm guitar respectively. My choice from it, The Roads, is a lovely folky ballad which has an air of vulnerability to it which is quite unusual in his work.

And, as this is a relay, my next task is to pass the baton to …


Glenn Smith

And so, to the difficult third act, the one where you have to restart with your right arm cut off. These third act tunes pick up from The Evangelist, released two years after Grant’s demise and a record where Robert Forster truly finds his solo voice. If It Rains gets us back to the beginning, the Queenslanders’ lament, will it metaphorically rain down upon him, or will he suffer more of the emotional drought experienced post Grant’s death. If It Rains is a beautiful opener to a revelatory album which allows Robert to bring with him what made him a Go-Between, and at the same time mark out his evolution as an artist.

Demon Days is sometimes hard to listen to, as it is so deeply personal. Co-written with Grant, it says so much about them and Robert’s reflection on his death, something’s not right, something’s gone wrong. The strings ache with pathos, the hint of McLennan lilt dampened by Robert’s pathos, probably the highlight of his solo career.


Demon Days sits in stark contrast to Let Your Light In Babe, another Forster/McLennan tune on The Evangelist. Here the core of the second act Go-Betweens band, Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson, demonstrate what a huge impact they had on realising these songs, with a superb piece of mandolin and great backing vocals.

Let Me Imagine You has it all; the strum, the first voice persona, the conversational tone that says so much through saying so little.



Tender Years from his most recent album The Candle And The Flame (see above) takes us on a Forster lyrical journey, underpinned as always by his barre chord strum, and a great groove by the rhythm section. Of all the women he’s contemplated, this one is one for the ages; he writes the narrative arc around her, using his classic first-person perspective to tell her story, he puts himself into her story, and like all Queenslanders get us into the salted water, he’s in a story with her and he takes us along, hanging on to his three-chord strum as we drift along the salted waters. He finishes by reflecting on how far we’ve come, thanks for taking us with you Robert.


* * *


Our choices of Robert Forster’s ‘solo’ work come from four albums. To date, he has recorded eight albums. The following extracts are from reviews of the records we have not covered in this post which are well worth exploring:


Robert Forster’s second solo album, Calling From A Country Phone (1993), was made in quite different circumstances than Danger In The Past, his first post-Go-Betweens effort. That album was recorded in Berlin with members of the Bad Seeds playing and Mick Harvey producing, and it reflected the big-city sophistication and style one would expect it to. Calling From A Country Phone was recorded at the same small studio in Brisbane where the Go-Betweens cut their early singles with a band of local musicians backing Forster on a batch of country-rock-influenced songs. They flicker back and forth between quietly restrained ballads and rambling rockers as Forster delivers his usual poetically inclined lyrics in dramatic fashion. It’s less Bad Seeds this time and closer to the loose-limbed, barely-in-control sound of the early Triffids – read on at AllMusic.


I Had A New York Girlfriend (1994), Forster’s entry in the line of albums consisting of covers by other artists, along the lines of David Bowie’s Pin-Ups, makes for an interesting and at times defiantly anti-hip visit through a surprising, entertaining selection of songs. The lineup of the backing band varies from track to track, but a variety of old friends sit in, the one constant being Nick Cave regular Conway Savage on keyboards, with fellow Bad Seed Mick Harvey appearing on almost everything – read on at AllMusic.


Produced by Edwyn Collins, a longtime acquaintance of Forster from their Orange Juice/Go-Betweens days on the Postcard label, Warm Nights (1996) continues the string of wry, sharp romance from Forster’s other solo releases. The flavor is a touch less obviously country-pitched in comparison – more of the deft, understated rock/pop that the Go-Betweens were known for – though occasional acoustic steel guitar breaks and the like show that Forster hasn’t turned away from that approach entirely … Collins himself helps lead the core band backing Forster, and both his performance and production emphasize a calm, wiry approach that’s very direct, going so far as to leave in the occasional glitch or audible tape edit. Forster’s singing is extremely clear and straightforward, sounding like he’s singing right in a listener’s ear, without being overbearing – read on at AllMusic.


The video for Inferno (Brisbane in Summer), the first single from the former Go-Betweens frontman Robert Forster’s seventh solo album Inferno (2019), sees him mowing a lawn in a smart dark suit. In many ways, such an image seems completely relevant to the man’s character, which seeps equal measures of finesse and vanity … His previous album, 2015’s Songs To Play, was his best in years, skilfully linking threads between past and present across songs that were, perhaps, too languid for their own good. As if to redress this, Inferno whacks that album on the ear and sends it on its way – read on at the Irish Times.


Robert Forster official website

The Go-Betweens website

“Grant & I: Inside and Outside the Go-Betweens”
Robert Forster – Omnibus Press – 2018

“10 Rules Of Rock And Roll: Collected Music Writings 2005-11”
Robert Forster – Jawbone Press – 2011

Music to Sustain You: An Interview with Robert Forster
Tom Lanham – – February 2023

Track by Track: Robert Forster on ‘The Candle and the Flame’
Conor Lochrie – Rolling Stone – February 2023

Welcome Back: Robert Forster (Mojo magazine)

Interview by Brayden Edwards for X-Press magazine (March 2019)

Interview by Geoffrey Stueven for The Big Takeover (Sep 2015)

Toppermost #427: The Go-Betweens

Robert Forster biography (AllMusic)

Andrew Shields is a freelance historian, who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs.

Glenn Smith lives in Sydney and teaches high school English, plays very bad guitar with his bass playing son and spends far too much time thinking about The Beatles…

TopperPost #1,108


  1. David Lewis
    Mar 21, 2024

    Not only a great songwriter but an excellent writer of prose too. He’s a sharp and insightful critic and his ‘10 rules of rock and roll’ is highly recommended.
    But also listen to this perfect list of Forster songs.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Mar 21, 2024

    Thanks for this David and yes, Robert is a superb music critic. Indeed. his piece on the Saints reunion concert in Brisbane in 2007 is a particularly fine piece of writing. And, of course, he brings the same literary skill to his work as a lyricist.

  3. Dave Stephens
    Mar 21, 2024

    Another fine artist and, just as important, another fine Topper. Thank you Andrew & Glenn for giving me the Robert Forster story beyond the Go-Betweens. I’m not qualified to judge the merits of the Ten but I enjoyed what I heard. And, after David’s comment, I’m wondering if “10 Rules” should be on my list of books to purchase.

  4. Andrew Shields
    Mar 21, 2024

    Dave – given it includes best article I have read on ‘Old No.1’ I think it would be up your alley.

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