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I first heard of Australian band Powderfinger many years ago (circa 2000) when their track 'Like A Dog' (from the album OdysseyNumberFive) was included on a Kerrang! cover-mount CD. I quite liked it and it inspired me to see the band at V2001 - them being on the mainstage early in the day, when there wasn't much else on. Although they were pleasant enough, I didn't find them inspiring enough to track down one of their albums, until now (when actually I was offered a free review copy).
Dream Days at the Hotel Existence is album number six for the band, and follows a hiatus during which lead singer Bernard Fanning released a solo album and the band's Best Of 1994-2000 (Fingerprints). Unfortunately, given my limited experience of their previous offerings, I can't really compare it to their back catalogue - so I'm coming at it 'fresh' as it were. Since they haven't yet made much impact over here, despite critical and commercial success down under, I'll assume a similar lack of familiarity on the part of most readers.
It's fairly easy, but not particularly descriptive, to lump Powderfinger into the bracket of 'mainstream rock and pop', but that can mean different things to different people. Comparisons to UK artists like Coldplay or Snow Patrol don't quite fit for me. Maybe later Stereophonics are close to the mark, but a better point of departure would be someone like Matchbox 20 or The Calling. It's primarily guitar-based but unashamedly 'pop' and not as heavy as the likes of Foo Fighters or Red Hot Chili Peppers. Perhaps a nod to the recent material (as opposed to early grunge albums) of fellow Antipodeans and touring partners, Silverchair, wouldn't go amiss either, but maybe that's only because both bands are Australian.
Opener, 'Head Up In The Clouds', wasn't a particularly auspicious beginning. Apparently inspired by the book The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time, which I haven't read, all I can say is it didn't seem that inspired to me. It certainly wasn't a rocker, nor a ballad, and didn't really seem to go anywhere, just drifting by for almost four minutes. At best, I'd call it 'inoffensive' but I was starting to worry the whole album would be as bland and insipid, not to mention bordering on pretentious.
Thankfully, matters were redeemed by second track, the slightly rockier 'I Don't Remember', which for me was one of the most immediate on the album and has remained a favourite. I wasn't actually sure it would be the best choice of single, but later found that it was apparently the second single off the album down under, so obviously someone thinks it is a good commercial for the album.
I'm not going to go through all the tracks individually, but for the most part they're catchy radio-friendly type, many of which feature soon-familiar choruses and could be singles. Things continue on this pretty positive note for about two-thirds of the album, though I would say that towards the end things lag slightly. 'Nobody Sees' and 'Surviving', in particular, drop the tempo a bit and place a bit more emphasis on piano rather than guitar and, for me, they are a little on the dreary side. Nothing's really too bad though and there are still a few highlights, such as 'Ballad Of A Dead Man', with its return to cryptic lyrics ("I thought that I could pick you up and roll you like a dice").
One final song deserves special mention - the cover of Portishead's 'Glory Box' (included here as a bonus track and previously appearing on the Australian tribute compilation No Man's Woman). It's slightly weird hearing it sung by a man and, to be honest, were it not for the novelty value I'd probably rate it as the worst song on the album. They do at least take what I consider to be the best approach to a cover - not merely mimicking the original or making it quite like their own - so it remains a point of interest and suitable note on which to end the album.
Personally, I ordinarily prefer my rock, if not necessarily heavier, then a bit more alternative. Nonetheless, I had to admit that I liked this album and so did my mum (who's in her 50s but partial to the odd bit of Keane, Artic Monkeys, etc). It's a good example of mainstream radio friendly rock and a sad thing that the British public will no doubt continue to ignore them.
This is an expanded version of a review I posted on Amazon.co.uk.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Head Up In The Clouds
2 I Don't Remember
3 Lost And Running
4 Wishing On The Same Moon
5 Who Really Knows - Powderfinger & The Sound Of Insanity
6 Nobody Sees
8 Long Way To Go
9 Black Tears
10 Ballad Of A Dead Man
11 Drifting Further Away