Robert Forster is like that nerdy guy on your favorite TV drama; always existing in a seemingly more advanced intellectual state. He’s like John Cale’s brain to Lou Reed’s brawn in The Velvet Underground. He’s best known for his role as one half of the songwriting team (with the late Grant McLennan) in The Go-Betweens, a criminally ignored Australian band. He’s now quietly released his seventh solo album, and if you enjoy the musical equivalent to a dry sense of humor, Forster’s Inferno just might light your fire.
Lyrically, Inferno mixes commentary about daily mundane activities with occasional commentary on the film business (most notably with “Remain”). The album’s title track references The Velvet Underground with its pounding piano part that may bring flashbacks of waiting for the man, as well as, perhaps, a nod to David Bowie’s “Jean Genie.” This loud one is followed by “The Morning,” which is as Sunday morning gentle, as “Inferno (Brisbane in Summer)” is rollicking. No matter the sonic backing, though, Forster always remains sounding as though he’s in complete control. He’s not a slave to his music; it’s the other way around.
“Life Has Turned a Page” reveals Forster’s novalist-like ability to tell a story. Perhaps (and not to belabor the VU point), he learned that from listening to Lou Reed songs, like “Sweet Jane.” The album closes with “One Bird in the Sky,” which quietly moody and includes violin accompaniment.
Inferno, despite its inflammatory title, is not a particularly explosive album. Instead, it’s a smart, literate collection of songs, sung with brainy purpose. If Robert Forster lights your fire, it will most likely be for a quiet, candlelight dinner.