The production credit for Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (what a wonderfully pretentious title) was going to read, ‘The Go-Betweens and Richard Preston’. There’d be no drum machines, no piecemeal recording, no acquiescence to a higher authority – we were experienced enough in the studio, and flying on the strength of our demoed songs and Richard’s easy, collaborative ways. Our intention was to expand upon the crisp, woody sound of Before Hollywood, to include a grander, more exotic range of instrumentation – vibraphone, oboe, piano accordion, and, at Grant’s suggestion and to my apprehension, a string section. But he was right; we were making music and living lives that demanded strings. And we had a crack rhythm section, with Robert’s swinging melodic bass and Lindy’s signature rolls and fills, inventive and sturdy under every song.
I found it one of that albums where after a few listens each tune sticks in your head. It marks a real progression in Forster and McLennan’s writing, although it may simply be a reflection of their movement away from experimental song writing to more standard 4/4 song structures.
Grant McLennan: There was quite a fundamental musical change in the band, towards simplification. Something we’ve been accused of in the past, of being almost a pop band, almost an art band, you know, now we’re simplifying. Thinking more of 4/4.
I really like how Clinton Walker captured in back in 1986:
That the Go-Betweens’ language is unlike anyone else’s in rock is undeniable; now, it is totally at ease with itself, stepping out boldly. Deceptively simple pop songs contain a whole world. Even if this isn’t the album that will provide the Go-Betweens with a real breakthrough, it will certainly pave the way. It is in itself an assertion of a right to life.
What is interesting is that even though this album moves away from the precision provided by programmed beats and synthesisers, the sounds is still very tight. With the development of their sound, it feels like the bass and drums have found their place providing a base for the jangly guitars. I was left wondering how the album might have sounded differently if say John Brand had produced it?
On a side note, Tracey Thorn reflects upon Head Full of Steam in her book on Lindy Morrison:
Years later, when their relationship is shattering and dissolving, he will write a song called ‘Head Full of Steam’, and when they play it live on UK television on The Old Grey Whistle Test, he’s added a few lines that don’t appear on the album version: ‘Steam may rise / Steam may tear / Can I come to your place / Can I wash your hair.’ At the time, Lindy tells me those lines refer to an actual event, which is precious in both their memories, and I feel in possession of secret information, privy to the background details which make up the vivid story of this song. — LOCATION 425