No Passengers: Top 10 Powderfinger Songs
For many Australian music followers, there are two radio stations that dictate taste: Triple M (meat-and-potatoes rock) and Triple J (the youth-broadcasting alternative, which has gradually skewed towards the mainstream in recent decades).
Sure, there’s a world of music that doesn’t get an airing on either station – and for whose followers take immense pride in their beloved artists being anonymous to most – but for the draught-swilling, parma-smashing majority it’s the two Triples that feed the country’s musical consciousness.
One way to get really big in Australia is to straddle the fence between the two Triples; that is, have your music played on the back of Nickelback on M, and Kendrick on J. It’s a luxury enjoyed by very few bands; internationally, there’s the likes of Kings of Leon and Foo Fighters; locally there’s Silverchair, Jet and, of course, Powderfinger.
A five-piece from Brisbane fronted by the charismatic Bernard Fanning, Powderfinger kicked into gear in my early adulthood. Double Allergic, their second album, was released in my first year out of high school, when after a stint of unemployment I landed work at a factory, where for many months my job was to suction-lift bags of infant formula on to an escalating conveyer belt – and, frequently, unjam the bags from the blades that sent the powder into a holding vat.
The work wasn’t great for my often-morose 19-year-old mindset, but music always helped soothe the everyday as I put cash away for a backpacking adventure. In the wake of the grunge boom, I was always seeking new artists, preferably local, with a melancholy rock sound and pop sensibilities. Powderfinger fit the bill, and songs like “Pick You Up”, “D.A.F.” and “Living Type” were on high rotation during weekend drinking sessions and festival road-trips throughout late ’96 and ’97.
Powderfinger really hit their straps in the late ’90s, while I roamed the UK, Ireland, Europe and Southeast Asia. When I left Australia towards the end of ’97, Powderfinger were still emerging; when I put a full stop to travelling at the end of 2001, they were Australia’s biggest band, a mantle until they held until calling it a day in 2010.
So while my eyes were filled with “fitba”, my throat cleansed by lager and my ears caressed by Blur, The Verve, Radiohead and Fat Boy Slim, Powderfinger hit creative gold with Internationalist (1998) and Odyssey Number Five (1999). Their output thereafter was solid, if unspectacular: Commercial radio latched on to the rousing rock of 2003’s Vulture Street and the guys were set up for life. You don’t get much bigger here than performing at the AFL Grand Final.
Since those heady days I’ve had three kids, moved house and careers a few times, and my music tastes have evolved by virtue of a stint as a CD reviewer for a national magazine, and a workmate whose zeal for music was so immense that he burnt for me at least 100 CDs of music that were surely straight out of the movie High Fidelity.
Until recently, Powderfinger weren’t a band I had sought much in 10 years, but the lockdown has unearthed some odd fixations in me, as I’m sure it has for everyone. Nostalgia has crept in frequently, and I’ve found myself digging up old movies, books, photos, journals and scraps of writing (oh, dear!), and music that framed my adolescent years.
Recently, a local-dads Whatsapp group were talking about Powderfinger in revered tones ahead of their reunion One Night Lonely virtual gig, which was viewed almost 500,000 times, and raised nearly $500,000 for Beyond Blue and Support Act, a charity that provides mental health and crisis support to people in the music industry. Fanning has always been a supporter of many causes, and the performance reminded me just how much his band have soundtracked the key life moments of many Australian dads (and mums).
So I worked through the band’s full catalogue, including the hard-rocking, often-forgotten debut Parables for Wooden Ears. The experience sent me down memory lane, to less stressful, but emptier times. These 10 excellent tracks from one of Australia’s biggest ever bands might help you do the same.
10. Belter Internationalist (1998) / Two Hands OST (1999)
Booming kickstarter to the sublimely scripted Two Hands and sets up Powderfinger’s most adventurous album nicely.
9. Burn Your Name Golden Rule (2009)
Passionate late-career number that proved the boys hadn’t lost their knack for energetic, melodious rock.
8. Trading Places Internationalist (1998)
Sublime album track that sets out as tender acoustic lament before unshackling the full band, strings and all.
7. The Metre Odyssey Number Five (2000)
A fan favourite that swings from eggshell-fragile verses to a hopeful chorus: “Welcome to the saving grace!”
6. D.A.F. Double Allergic (1996)
And the buzz gets louder. Taut, drama-tinged tune that’s of its time while still sounding fresh today.
5. My Happiness Odyssey Number Five (2000)
This catchy, seemingly effortless Hottest 100 No.1 (2000) and ARIA Song of the Year (2001) is a high-watermark for many.
4. The Day You Come Internationalist (1998)
Atmospheric and politically-charged, TDYC was a major driver of the band’s escalating fan base in the late ’90s.
3. These Days Odyssey Number Five (2000) / Two Hands OST (1999)
Oh, my early-20s: When Heath and Rose beautified the screen – and “These Days” utterly nailed Two Hands‘ emotive ending.
2. Passenger Internationalist (1998)
Brooding, bonafide classic that nods to working-class life, combining poetic lyrics and a soaring, anthemic chorus.
1. Thrilloilogy Odyssey Number Five (2000)
Sprawling, intricately crafted rock number that embodies all the band do well. No surprise it’s their fave song to perform live.