In the end, Spring Hill Fair feels like a searching album. I have read criticisms of John Brand, the producer of Before Hollywood, and the way in which he wanted to make a ‘proper album’. Some tracks feel honed, such as the singles Bachelor Kisses and Man O’Sand to Girl O’Sea, while other tracks still feel raw, such as Five Words and River of Money.
Wikipedia has a good collection of responses to the album:
Clinton Walker, writing in The Age newspaper, felt “the album as a whole was disappointing, disjointed and uneven.” Helen FitzGerald was more enthusiastic in her review for Melody Maker, writing, “There’s an endearing imperfection to this record, but it’s a calculation of style rather than incompetence of design. In places, the vocals quaver dangerously as out-of-focus love songs paint a picture of the kind of melancholia that’s impossible to forge.” The songs were compared to sepia-toned photographs. Biba Kopf of NME said, “It would be silly to pretend the Go-Betweens are a sparkling fun experience – they are sometimes excessively sombre, verging on sobriety. They don’t make for the easiest of entries, but the pleasures and rewards are longer lasting.” NME ranked Spring Hill Fair at number 11 among the “Albums of the Year” for 1984. In 1996, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice gave the album an “A” rating.
With this album, maybe like the classic Beatles debate between Lennon and McCartney, I felt myself becoming more engaged with McLennan’s tracks, rather than Foster’s.