Tuesday, May 09, 2006

World: The music dies again: Jack Frost caught out by Grant McLennan’s death

Sad to hear that Grant McLennan died suddenly over the weekend, not even reaching the wrong side of 50.

Of course, McLennan is best known as a singer and songwriter for the Go-Betweens, a seminal Queensland band whose heyday was in the 80s, yet found fresh musical beauty when they reformed a few years ago.

Two things I didn’t know about him: he was active in protests during the repressive Bjelke-Petersen regime in the 70s; and music was an accidental career, when fellow Go-Betweens founder Robert Forster encouraged the budding poet to join him in a band – and learn a musical instrument.

This latter is quite a surprise, given his evocative melodic contributions to the Go-Betweens catalogue with such songs as Cattle And Cane, Bye Bye Pride, and Streets Of Your Town.

Yet I came not to praise him in the Go-Betweens, but to bury him in glory for his achievements with a side project, Jack Frost.

A collaboration between McLennan and Steve Kilbey of The Church, Jack Frost recorded a scant two albums, of which the latter, Snow Job, is an undervalued masterpiece in the Australian musical lexicon.

The songwriting voices of McLennan and Kilbey meshed particularly well on this album. The voices blended well, too, and they were by turns world-weary, bitter, yet powerful, magical, soaring. Anyone who knows well Kilbey’s music from The Church (visit this rich fan site) will recognise this bipolar description, yet Snow Job’s uniqueness was in the depth two accomplished musicians brought to each other, making the earlier eponymous Jack Frost album something of a pre-gig warmup. The egos took a backseat to the songwriting, the music, and the sublime harmonies. They rocked hard and well on Jack Frost Blues, a whimsical look at the persistence of a filmmaker (the wigs got wet so “we shaved our heads, that was the better bet”) – for which they both must have drawn upon their indefatiguable musical experiences. Yet the music and harmonies are in incandescent flight for the most part; at a zenith on Cousin/Angel, Empire and Angela Carter (yes that writer: “she lives in her own world” is the refrain).

I’ll dabble some more in the Go-Betweens; there’s gems to be found, particularly in the later of their nine albums. I’ll even try once more to discover the spirit in McLennan’s solo effort Fire Boy. By way of consolation for Jack Frost’s future denied.

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