Album Reviews

Robert Forster: The Candle and the Flame

On his eighth solo release, the Australian songwriting marvel continues to deliver.

Without even mentioning the band in which Robert Forster made his name in, at 65 years of age and seven albums under his belt, The Candle and the Flame has the local song and dance man continuing a fine run of albums to release another impressive set of songs that sees him as sharp as ever with his pen and just as seamless with his musicianship on his eight outing.

The foundation of the record is no doubt the album opener and lead single, She’s a Fighter. A short, sharp ditty in which lays bare a very personal story and truth of Forster’s wife and life partner Karin Baumler being diagnosed with cancer, the tune is a musically defiant ode to the despair of a family in need of a call for calm in trying times. Whilst the song features only six words in total, it’s a rhythmic beast that never lets up and consumes you within seconds.

The Men: New York City

Featuring in the video clip released for the single is the charismatically awkward front man with his wife and two children Louis (of the now defunct Goon Sax) and Loretta, recorded and filmed as a family, which creates a certain type of fabric for the theme of the record. Family. Other musicians on the recorded helping fill out Forster’s band and sound, is members from the also defunct local Brisbane act John Steel Singers, Scott Bromiley and Luke McDonald who aren’t strangers to Forster and ex Go-Between member, Adele Pickvance.

Robert Forster - The Candle and the Flame

The majority of the songs for this eighth LP had been kicking around well before Baumler’s diagnosis, however once that theme had developed, the album firmly found its footing and as you’ll see in the follow up single, Tender Years, there’s a sense of ‘home’ reverberating through the record. For what seems like a dull proposition, along with Forster’s unique energy combined with organic impulses and template, this is what makes Forster’s music a triumph. It’s simple, filled with a type of warmth coming from a real place. Tender Years could only be written by a true novelist, it will go down as one of his greatest love songs put to paper.

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I Don’t Do Drugs I Do Time underpins a Dylan-esque swagger with Jonathan Richman-like sensibilities, as by now it’s expected to hear this kind of witty and inviting wordplay that Forster has come to be known for. Always is the mid-album upbeat tempo number that could definitely be found on a Go-Betweens record no doubt, also fitting to crank up in your vehicle whilst you’re heading up Sandgate Road at 60km per hour as you pass the Eagle Junction intersection.

If anything, Go Free is Forster’s pleasant middle finger to what COVID presented in the first stages of it, filled with confusion and confinement. The rest of the album is filled with quiet ditties of warm and hopeful compositions that have the ability to lift your spirits. When I Was a Young Man is what I can only concede as a truly fitting conclusion to the record, a comprehensive reflection or a biographical sing song of a snapshot in time just for our benefit, conjuring up blissful imagery at ease whilst dropping musical heroes, David Bowie, Lou Reed, David Byrne and Tom Verlaine in the mix. Whether The Candle and the Flame acts as a very mature protest album to the ills we have to face in life or a family album, Forster doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, the flame still burns strong.

The Candle and the Flame is out now via Tapete Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

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