I see a canal and I think waterfalls…
Every artist should know how to dance the perfect striptease. Not that he should dance it. Not to complete exposure. The real tragedy for an artist is to appear naked. Any lonely teenager will tell you: shed a garment or two, but never go for full-frontal nudity. Artistic nudity destroys your image, makes you look compromised, and there’s nothing worse for an artist than to be demystified. With time, even his music, his paintings, his books will start getting worse… Indeed, there should be some scientific research into the matter.
Video may have killed the radio star, but social network is killing the artist. It’s tragic. Robert Forster could tell you a thing or two about that. Robert Forster isn’t on Twitter.
Also, he is an artist. In the old-fashioned sense of the word (old-fashioned being merely a few decades ago). It’s not because his latest album contains song titles like “A Poet Walks”, “Songwriters On The Run” and “Disaster In Motion”. It’s in his carefully guarded image (the video he so thoroughly scripted). In his idea to release albums every five years (more artists should be encouraged to do that). In the way his melodies stay in tune with modern music but gracefully slip out of time. In the way he can give you a mundane line like ‘golf balls found in the mud’ and make the imagery so evocative and so complete.
In fact, it’s been a whopping seven years. In this time, a band can form, release a promising debut, crash into sophomore slump, reach its peak, split up and be forgotten. And Robert Forster wrote ten new songs. I’m not going to compare Songs To Play with The Evangelist (which has slowly become a top 10 album for me), but you cannot fault the songwriting. “Learn To Burn” is a perfect driving opener augmented by some beautiful violin work from Karin Baumler. “Let Me Imagine You” is the song of the year (it also contains the lyric of the year). “Songwriters On The Rain” is a striking duet and features my favourite instrumental hook on the whole album. “And I Knew” is a pretty acoustic piece that could appear uneventful were it not for Robert’s personality. Side A finishes with “A Poet Walks”, a classic of poetry and intensity.
Side B has two brilliant pop songs in “I’m So Happy For You” and “I Love Myself And I Always Have” (you have to love those lyrics), one rain-themed romantic ballad in “Turn On The Rain”, one surprise in “Love Is Where It Is” (have I already mentioned the clever sequencing of this album?) and one career-defining moment in the closing “Disaster In Motion” which occupies that beautiful spot between “The Mountains Near Dellray” and Grant’s “Bachelor Kisses”. And, again, tons and tons of that unmistakable Australian charisma (I’m improvising here). In fact, the least charismatic part of the whole thing happens to be the album title. I would have much preferred Soft Flashbacks…
Certain artists are like Robert Plant’s jeans. They leave no room for imagination. There is no sense of mystery that is essential to every true artist. Robert Forster is different. He lets you dream and guess. No, not even that: he makes you dream and guess. It’s like that unforgettable line from Edward Albee’s play: ‘It’s for me to know and for you to find out’. Robert Forster knows and he does it his way. This album is a masterpiece.