Since the mid-’90s Powderfinger have held a hegemony over the Australian music scene the like of which the mighty AC/DC, the less than mighty Savage Garden and even Kylie herself never managed.
Bernard Fanning‘s band have been on hiatus since 2003’s Vulture Street, a record so aggressive in its pounding, libidinous fury that Fanning had to rest his ears and record a solo album involving mandolins, violins and country-rock. Where the Brisbane monoliths would turn next was gonna be of interest.
Vulture Street marked the end of the band’s youth – a last play at being balls-out rockers, yet keeping their social conscience in tact. This new LP marks out the Powderfinger five as grown-ups. Now they have children, mortgages and large houses. As a consequence, the volume has been turned down. And that’s not always a good thing.
On three tracks, the typically anthemic Lost and Running, I Don’t Remember and Surviving do they hit the standards they have set for themselves in the past decade, the latter being a morsel of driving, classic rock that sits easily among the finest tracks they have recorded.
Unfortunately, elsewhere there is little to get too excited about. All their albums, be it Internationalist, Odyssey Number Five or Vulture Street, were definitive musical statements, informed either by thudding punk velocities, experimental, melodic acoustic avenues or Black Crowes-like cock-rock. Each of those coupled with the zeal of Fanning’s lyrics made those albums thoroughly engaging, if not earth-shattering listens. This, however, seems stunted by confusion over which identity to take this time out.
The tracks listed above audibly possess the passion of Powderfinger at their brilliant basest, but the likes of Who Really Cares and Wishing On The Same Moon have kernels of good songs drowned out by drippy lyrics, forced production and a general lack of conviction – I think the idea was to produce an emotive ‘rock ballad’, something that doesn’t help Powderfinger fend off the unfortunate label they have attracted among some of being the ‘Australian Coldplay‘. There’s only a couple of these spineless tracks on this, their sixth album, but so pronounced is their flaccidity that it renders the entire album sub-standard.
One song you can’t imagine Coldplay writing however is Black Tears. Fanning has written a song about an aboriginal man who died in police custody in Queensland, and to his credit has found a sincerity that substantially redeems the album. Apparently, when he plays it live it is very moving, something this record largely fails to be. It’s Powderfinger though, so its not a damp squib entirely.