"DEALING WITH a major label was not what we wanted. You see, then you're dealing with people who don't like music. They stand in back at your shows and they're just tin-eared." So says Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens, one of the most overlooked and brilliant pop bands of our time, whose revolving line-up and label problems were two reasons for their break-up in 1989.

Along with co-founder Grant McLennan, and some help from friends old and new, the Go-Betweens have returned with a new recording on the New York indie label Jetset.

The Friends of Rachel Worth is one of the warmest sounding records of the year, featuring Forster's and McLennan's haunting and literary lyrics spread over the top of some of the catchiest and craftiest pop hooks you're likely to hear in this day of techno-everything. The duo's songwriting has always been a highlight of The Go-Betweens, drawing comparisons to Lennon/McCartney, and sometimes even Jagger/Richards. "We've always written our own songs. I think Grant's are more poetic than mine, more lyrical."

When asked if competition between the two writers was ever a factor in the break-up, Forster quickly reassures me it wasn't. "Grant and I have always got on. We've always kept in touch. We were in the band from around the ages of 20 until 32. We needed a break and it was good for us. We were suddenly out on our own, like teenagers." McLennan stayed in Australia and Forster moved to Germany in 1989.

Solo, McLennan explored more pop territory with highly produced records (including Jack Frost, a collaboration with Steve Kilbey of the Church) while Forster's work was more moody, draped in shadows and melancholy. Every few years the pair got together to do some acoustic shows and play Go-Betweens' songs for grateful fans. In 1995, the pair wrote a film script. "We spent three months, every day of it together, writing this script. It still needs some work, though."

The importance of the band is finally being realized by a larger audience. Since the break-up, there have been two "Best Of" collections as well as their six original albums, and the mysterious "Lost Album" reissued on CD. (Not to mention a book by ex-Cannane Dave Nichols.) Bands such as Belle & Sebastian have taken the Go-Betweens' smart, bookish sensibilities and have already gained beyond-cult status. "I'm surprised there's not more bands like that, really. Being organic, doing what comes naturally. When we started, our sound came from Jonathan Richman, Television, and how we worshipped them," says Forster.

The NEW sound of The Go-Betweens is as classic as before, and recorded right here in Portland. "We were looking for a place to record and we met Larry Crane and immediately picked up on his philosophy on recording." Janet Weiss of Quasi/Sleater-Kinney enthusiastically volunteered to play drums and other local rockers jumped on board for the recording. The result, The Friends of Rachel Worth, is a distinguished set of songs, none of which jump up and down and shout for more attention than the rest. Like past Go-Betweens' records, you have to be a little patient, but after a few listens you'll feel the music dancing a tango with your heartstrings. Melodic beauties such as "Spirit" will have your toes tapping before you even realize that half the song doesn't have a drumbeat. "German Farmhouse" will have you playing air guitar. "Heart and Home" recalls the band's best sing-along moments of the past, and "Going Blind" sounds like a K band doing a song for a John Hughes movie. All of it combined makes for a spine-chilling experience, like reading a really good and personal novel.

So, should we expect more Go-Betweens music? "Oh sure, we'd like to do more," says Forster with much confidence.

And what's the title mean, anyway?

"Nothing. It's just a title that sounded good."