“I hope I die before I get old,” Roger Daltrey wailed in The Who’s hit “My Generation”, and that rock ‘n roll mantra has been extolled by any number of musicians since 1965. Not Robert Forster, though.
At the late age of 65, The Go-Betweens legend has just released his eighth solo album, The Candle and the Flame, and it’s a life-affirming tribute to growing old comfortably and finding happiness in one’s twilight years.
It’s also a record born out of adversity: Karin Bäumler, Forster’s wife, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2021, and soon music became the only form of escape for Forster and his family.
“One night, when sitting cross-legged on the couch, after we had played a song, Karin looked up from her xylophone and said, ‘When we play music, is the only time I forget I have cancer.’ That was a big moment,” Forster heartbreakingly revealed in a statement shared to his website last year.
The Candle and the Flame is, in a way, a protest album, one that captures Forster and Bäumler’s powerful insistence that sometimes life simply must go on.
The album was a proper family affair – it was produced by Forster and his wife alongside his son, Louis, of the sadly-departed indie-rock band The Goon Sax – with the trio recording when Bäumler’s health allowed it.
It was worth it in the end, because The Candle and the Flame contains some of the finest songs of Forster’s latter career. Considering mortality, ageing, contentment, anguish and, of course, love, in his singular way, these songs are profoundly moving and quietly cathartic.
As Forster revealed to Rolling Stone AU/NZ, several friends even hailed “Tender Years”, the second song on The Candle and the Flame, as “the best love song” he’s ever written. You can read the inimitable singer-songwriter’s full breakdown of his new album below.
Forster will also be going on a national tour in May, taking in nine stops around the country, and tickets are available now here.
Robert Forster’s The Candle and the Flame is out now via EMI.
The Candle and the Flame Track-by-Track
“She’s A Fighter”
My shortest lyric. Two lines. “She’s a fighter. Fighting for good”. The music for the song was fast and crowded, offering little room for exotic stories or recounting the mishaps of a protracted romance. I had to be quick, but still say something in the short space I had.
A few friends, when hearing this song, said to me, it was the best love song I have ever written. I take this as a great compliment, as I have written a number of love songs through my songwriting life. I knew the song was strong, but how strong only became apparent when I heard the recording.
“It’s Only Poison”
This was a new kind of song for me to write. I had been working on my guitar playing – trying different chord positions and shapes on the instrument. It is important as a songwriter, I think, to keep experimenting and searching for new ways to create music. This song is a result of that, and has a groovy Rolling Stones/Velvet Underground feel to it, that I have never done before.
I wrote this in my wife’s family house in Bavaria, Germany. When Karin and I are in Bavaria she always drives while I sit dreamily in the passenger seat. The song is what I see out my window. Roads disappearing into forests. Roads ending at peoples homes. Not only do I want to thank the roads for taking me where I need to go, I want to thank them for showing me interesting things on the way.
“I Don’t Do Drugs I Do Time”
Some friends of ours are still partying pretty hard. They’re in their fifties and sixties and that’s fine. I have been sober for twenty-five years, but it doesn’t mean I have slowed down. Instead of drugs, I do time. I travel back and forwards through memory; appreciating the colours and kaleidoscope of the journey through my natural senses. Musically, this song is psychedelic Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash.
A song about Eternity. A song about the permanent and the regular. A song about the laws of nature and the nature of friendship. About the sun and the moon, which are always found in the sky.
“There’s A Reason To Live”
Reasons to live are everywhere. Floating in the gutter, hiding in your clothes closet. An old ticket you find in a jacket to a concert you’d forgotten you’d gone to. Holding the ticket, you suddenly remember things. The show happened a long time ago in Stockholm and you were unhappy. Looking at the ticket now, you are thankful you kept searching for better things in your life.
I wrote this in the first COVID year. Some people close to me felt boxed in – they’d had travel plans and suddenly found themselves trapped at home. They were unable to do what they wanted to do – open up a new chapter of their lives. I was being positive, thinking one day it will happen. You can go free.
“When I Was A Young Man”
It’s hard for me to unravel and explain a song as extraordinary as this. One clue comes from a radio show I heard on Radio National called ‘The Year That Made Me’, or was it, ‘The Year That Changed Me’? I wondered to myself, ‘what would be the year that made or changed me?’ It would be when I was twenty one. I left home. I was writing my first good songs. I was living in a groovy share house. The world opened up for me.