Review Summary: After a year’s hiatus and several side-projects, the king of Australian rock's crown tilts ever so slightly. In fact, it may be time to hand it over.
I guess it's not surprising that this sixth studio effort from the Australian five-some Powderfinger sees the band marching into even more mainstream territory. Following the success of 2003's Vulture Street
, which supplied commercial radio with a swarm of hits (some of them not even singles), it's almost inevitable that the pressures of the majority would eventually see the band resting on their laurels, rather than pushing the envelope a little further. This isn’t to say the already mega successful Powderfinger have anything to prove – in fact I don’t think anyone is seriously bothered about the lack of experimentation or ambition found in Dream Days at the Hotel Existence
– but I honestly think they should be.
What Dream Days
unfortunately represents for the band is an obvious need to settle down and start making “nice music”, all the while slowly edging their way into the adult-contemporary section of your local music store. What this unfortunately represents for us – the fanatical faithful who have no intention of “growing up” – is that the days of such exuberant singles such as Pick You Up
or Day You Come
topping the charts is sadly coming to a rather anticlimactic end. Here the youthful songs of album’s past are traded for more mature, earthly cuts that would appeal more to fans of swampy, bluegrass rock than moody, enigmatic pop.
Lead single Lost & Running
is a fitting example, being an obvious tip-of-the-hat to the great Rolling Stones, with it’s laidback approach and simple acoustic charm. It does a pretty good job summing up the attitude of the album, and also did a pretty good job of dividing long-time fans, who mostly didn’t get it. Fortunately, whether the disgruntled fans acknowledge it or not, it’s actually a surprisingly catchy number that will only grow with repeated listens. Second single I Don’t Remember
is another feel-good track that will flourish with a little time – obviously to make up for the awards it won’t be receiving in the originality department. Nevertheless, it proves the multiple ARIA award winners haven’t forgotten how to write a good song.
And this is the aspect of the album I find horribly baffling – there actually isn’t a bad song present. While there are obviously a few tracks that stand heads above the rest, it is actually quite consistent, which is fairly commendable seeing how little it strays off the mainstream path the band are so obviously aiming towards. Ballads Wishing On the Same Moon
and Nobody Sees
do very little different than what the band has done better before, yet they are still strong tracks which utilize the variety and flexibility the band is capable of – especially when placed on either side of the maniacal Who Really Cares (Featuring the Sound of Insanity)
, which includes famed keyboardist Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) providing his own dramatic additions to the already rocking tune.
The gorgeous Long Way to Go
proves the sentimental winner, with the usual heart-wrenching lyrics fortunately surviving the band’s search for a wider appeal, while opener Head Up in the Clouds
proves to be the strongest track on the record, tipping it’s hat toward their 2000 effort Odyssey Number Five
in regards to the atmospheric guitars and moody vocals, which otherwise don’t feature on the rest of the album much. Listen also for the politically-fueled Black Tears
which – considering the controversy surrounding it – is really just an enigmatic acoustic piece designed to make us white folk think a little harder about our actions in the future. Fair enough, really.
So there you have it, Powderfinger grow some grey hairs on their latest record and survive with dignity intact. Unfortunately however, Dream Days at the Hotel Existence
doesn’t amount to the complete excitement of their previous record, or even the emotional impact of Odyssey Number Five
, but rather seems content to stroll along as though it’s unaware it could be the beginning of the slow downfall of one of Australia’s greatest acts. It’s by no means a bad album, just far too pedestrian. Or maybe I just need to grow up.