Review Summary: A return to form, or a return to norm? Neither - Golden Rule is a new beginning.
It's taken twenty years, but Australia's Powderfinger have finally resigned to the fact that they were only ever destined for local success. 2007's Dream Days at the Hotel Existence
- the band's first American production - had the group out of favour with the critics for the first time since their pre-Double Allergic
days and had fans surmising that the group's reign on top of the Australian rock pile was well and truly over. According to many, the fat lady had sung, and while Golden Rule
doesn't overtly argue to the contrary, it does confirm that the group will always be capable of creating melancholic gold that drips with atmosphere, even after 7 albums.
Almost from the outset of their careers, Powderfinger had created smart rock albums that managed to please the mainstream market and the Triple J hipsters alike - a not so easy achievement. But with Dream Days
, the maturity of their songwriting had given way to something less cerebral and ultimately generic, at least in the realm of mainstream rock. For the first time in the group's history, they were in danger of becoming nothing more than a Grey's Anatomy band, something which was almost realised when the unassuming ballad Drifting Further Away
was played on the American soap.
Powderfinger have taken heed of the warnings and returned to Australia to record with producer Nick DiDia once again, in an obvious implication that they won't be turning their backs on the Australian music scene any time soon - if ever again. The band even booked a show at the country's biggest redneck festival in the Deniliquin Ute Muster (and I'll forgive you for thinking I was referring to that annual riot of all things bogan The Big Day Out). The sentiment doesn't mean much if the new material doesn't satisfy and, thankfully, Powderfinger's new album Golden Rule
does prove to be a consistent effort that contains marks of a familiar sound with some original ideas that see the band maturing further.
Album highlight Iberian Dream
is a bombastic rock track with an energy and swagger ripped straight from the Vulture Street
era, while the also heavy Jewel
channels the crazier moments from the often schizophrenic Internationalist
. Leading single All of the Dreamers
is an example of the group's more relaxed approach to songwriting, where the melodies and structures seem more free-flowing than the tight pop sensibilites of albums past, while also reminding of a classic Midnight Oil sound with its political ethos and stark, desert-like production.
Ballads dominate the rest of the album with Poison In Your Mind
proving the most heart-warming. With its soaring harmonies and lavishly plucked chords, the song abounds with countless Crowded House-isms and doesn't prove too dissimilar from Fanning's own solo album Tea & Sympathy
, with an almost sepia-like quality. It's the band's first foray into a relative bluegrass sound since thier early EP's, and is only too short to find a fault. Obvious single choice Burn Your Name
recalls Vulture Street
's Since You've Been Gone
- both songs sharing a heart-wrenching chorus to die for - while slow tracks A Fight About Money
and Sail the Wildest Stretch
pile on the atmosphere thick and slow.
With a number of inconsequential tracks towards the end, Golden Rule
falls short of being put upon a pedestal with the group's classic albums, but thankfully contains the best elements of all of them at times. The maniacal stretches of Internationalist
, the layered moods of Odyssey Number Five
, and the confident rock of Vulture Street
all permeate within the material on Golden Rule
. It is now clear that Powderfinger are letting their songwriting age as they do - as they relax into a carefree perspective, so do their songs. For this reason, Golden Rule
is the most mature effort by one of Australia's most respected bands.