Album Review: Powderfinger ‘Golden Rule’

Powderfinger are probably the biggest rock band in Australia. Strangely, however, they have received very little international attention, which is a real pity when you consider that other Aussie bands like Wolfmother and Jet are probably more recognisable overseas.

Powderfinger have a reputation as a consistent band, and while this is true, it also doesn’t really give them credit. Although their work has indeed been of a relatively constant quality, this quality has also been extremely high. There’s nothing wrong with being consistent if you’re consistently brilliant.

This is evidenced by the fact their 2006 release, ‘Dream Days At The Hotel Existence’, was widely panned as their worst album ever. While it certainly never achieved the heights of its predecessor ‘Vulture Street’, which is one of my favourite Aussie albums, it was still a very solid rock album, with stand-out moments, such as the single I Don’t Remember and the epic Ballad of a Dead Man.

So I did not approach newest LP ‘Golden Rule’ with the same pessimism as many other music fans. When the first single was released, All of the Dreamers, I thought it was a relevant, powerful, and memorable critique of party politics, rather than a sign that Powderfinger were struggling, as many other people did. It may not be as instantly catchy as the singles of ‘Vulture Street’, but it certainly is a good rock song, and is only better for addressing a political issue (“Don’t follow the leaders into the dark…”).

So then, ‘Golden Rule’.

Just as many people seemed to want to see this as the demise of Powderfinger, so many people did. But I like to think that, surely, this album converted some of the nonbelievers, because it really is a great LP. Opener El Camino De La Muerta is the perfect introduction to the album, even though it clocks in at only 42 seconds. It’s the perfect expansion of Powderfinger’s sound, infinitely more complex than the straightforward arrangements of earlier work of the ‘Finger, despite its short length.

Poison In Your Mind is one of the highlights for me, a gorgeous song that exposes lead singer’s Bernard Fanning’s absolutely magnificent voice over the backing of a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, and, later, a piano and violin. It sounds a bit more like Bernard Fanning’s solo work than it does vintage ‘Finger, but it works beautifully in Golden Rule.

Following this is Iberian Dream, which gives diehard Powderfinger fans something to cheer about, with a sound reminiscent of Odyssey Number Five. It will sound great live as well. Jewel is an interesting song, stretching the sound of Powderfinger probably as heavy as it can go, almost back to their debut ‘Parables For Wooden Ears’.

Some have claimed that Powderfinger don’t progress as a band, but progress is here in ‘Golden Rule’, even if it’s hidden slightly. And there’s something here for any fan of Powerfinger- all you have to do is find it. Maybe this album is the perfect example of seeing what you want to see and hearing what you want to hear. But if you want to see it as the demise of one of Australia’s great rock acts then you’re really missing out on something.

It is not an outstanding album, but it is much more exciting and eclectic than ‘Dream Days…’. I look forward to hearing it interpreted live when I see Powderfinger headline Homebake music festival, and later play at the Big Day Out.

Rumours are flying that this will be Powderfinger’s last album, and, as much as I hope this isn’t the case, if it is, there are much worse ways to go.

Album rated: 7/10

Listen if you like: new ‘Finger, old ‘Finger, really old ‘Finger, Something For Kate, Bob Evans, Bernard Fanning

Edit: Audio not currently working, I will fix this problem as soon as possible.

Artist: Powderfinger

Song: Iberian Dream

2 Responses to “Album Review: Powderfinger ‘Golden Rule’”

  1. I discovered Powderfinger 5 yrs ago whilst in Sydney, and it is true, that they get next to zero coverage in Britain.Jet and Wolfmother do get more playtime,
    Powderfinger are consistant though in what they produce, and there is a progression in their releases. I too liked Hotel at the dream…. but prefered Vulture St , and ON5.
    I have ordered Golden Rule but it always take ages to import. !! but look forward, to it greatly. I don’t think they will split, but they may take another year off again !

  2. I love this band and I totally agree that they have been consistent – consistently excellent for a while now (let’s forget the first two albums, eh?). I also think that Iberian Dream would be excellent live, especially if the horns section could be used, as on the record (guessing that us fans in England won’t get to experience that). I think this is yet another of their fantastic albums that may go unnoticed in Britain and elsewhere outside of Oz, which is an unbelievable shame. Having all of their albums and seen them numerous times live, I can testify that this is one superb band and this album fits very nicely in their stellar canon.

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