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Dream Days of the Hotel Existence
Universal Music Australia

The phrase “pop rock” is usually an oxymoron. There is nothing poppy or smooth about rock and roll. At least the kind that makes you tap your feet and scream from the bottom of your lungs. What passes for real rock and roll these days is a watered down, corporate version of music that was popular when our parents were still in college. Not Powderfinger. Despite what the album jacket of their new album Dream Days of the Hotel Existence will tell you, this is not a flowery band, not quite. More like the quintet from a existential Hell, or a musical version of a drug addled Samuel Taylor Coleridge, screaming inwardly as he recovers from an opium overdose.

From the first track “Head up in the Clouds,” the intense licks of Australian Bernard Fanning and Darren Middleton invoke a spiritual wasteland, as the narrator struggles with the shortcomings of himself and others. The song calls to mind Audioslave-era Chris Cornell, full of the haunting tone associated with the artist. Other songs, such as “Lost and Running” and “Long as I go”, recall a gravelly version of Brad Roberts singing a pop love ditty. Still others are throwbacks to Stevie Nicks, and other rock singers of the 70s and 80s.

The resulting diversity creates a potpourri of tracks that are alternately upset, sad, philosophical, or cryptic. Despite having grown into pop, the band still manages to remain relevant, with lyrics like “Run little rabbit/can’t break the habit for none/Shapes like a rocket and shoots like a pocket gun.” This is a deceptively simple band, one that fools us into thinking they are one thing, when really they are another. Kudos to Rob Schapf for creating a complex sound that while outwardly glib is much, much more.

Though Powderfinger is billed as a “Australian” band, listening to the album one can see there is potential for so much more– the keyword being more. Compared to their contemporaries of the last fifteen years, they have a serious chance of crossing over into the mainstream. Silverchair and Men at Work they are not. They are something else, and no amount of pontificating can underscore that. They may be relative unknowns now, but in a year or two it is entirely possible that they will pop up on cable television or even top 40.

Just as the 80s and 90s had seminal albums that just had to be a part of the record collection, Dreams of the Hotel Existence is the must have record of the latter 00s. Here’s to hoping that we hear more from the boys from Brisbane.

–John Winn