Arecord that’s under the constant threat of being swallowed whole by the context of its creation, Robert Forster’s The Evangelist manages to function as an amalgam of a Forster solo record, a follow-up to his former band the Go-Betweens’ Oceans Apart, and a tribute to Grant McLennan, his collaborator in the Go-Betweens for some 35 years. In May 2006, while on tour in support of the band’s widely acclaimed last album, McLennan died suddenly, suffering a massive heart attack while napping before a party. Forster took the fragments of songs that McLennan had begun to write for their next record—a handful of lines from “Demon Days,” the choruses of “Let Your Light In, Babe” and “It Ain’t Easy”—and expanded them into fully-formed songs that he eventually included on Evangelist.
Recorded with surviving band members Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson, much of the album recalls the Go-Betweens’ output as much as any of Forster’s solo outings. Lead single “Pandanus,” with its soaring melodic hook and wordless chorus, would’ve fit comfortably on the band’s classic 16 Lovers Lane or their 2000 comeback record, The Friends of Rachel Worth, while the joyous, mandolin-drenched “Let Your Light In, Babe” is but another example of the exquisite modern pop that was the Go-Betweens’ trademark.
Despite these points of continuity, Forster truly challenges himself over the course of the record, most notably on “Demon Days.” Forster’s songwriting has always tended toward a high-minded, almost literary style, while McLennan’s far more direct approach provided a real sense of balance. Completing the lyrics for “Demon Days,” then, required Forster to attempt to adopt his friend’s voice. The song’s final lines, “But something’s not right/Something’s gone wrong,” capture both McLennan’s straightforwardness and Forster’s tendency to make specific allusions.
That trend actually carries over throughout much of Forster’s writing on the album. The lyrics in songs like “Did She Overtake You” and “Don’t Touch Anything” are informal and conversational, far more personal than anything he’s written in his solo career. But that isn’t to say that they lack his usual depth: It isn’t hard to infer meaning from lines like, “The sun has gone and it’s taken your troubles somewhere,” from “Pandanus.” And the final lines of closer “From Ghost Town,” “It’s gone yes yes yes it’s wrong/And why should this be so why why why,” end the album on a melancholy note. Evangelist finds Forster writing in a decidedly changed voice—one that is inspired by his longtime collaborator. The album impresses as much for its craft as for the way it allows Forster to honor McLennan’s passing even as it advances his own work.