“There are two kinds of musicians,” my friend explained, by way of excuse, “The ones that are interested in furthering the cause of music in an overarching historical and global sense, and the ones that are trying to tell us how they feel”.
Bernard Fanning, minor deity in Australian music history and long time object of my affection, is very much in the latter category.
A quiet room of industry types were locked in to listen to songs from his new solo album last week, played with a band named The Cold Front for the evening, but subject to change (“We’re changing the band name every night,” he smiled in that boy-child hipster hippy kind of way, “So every night the marquis can read ‘For one night only’”). I pulled out a shopping receipt and started writing down song names as he said them, as though this might help explain what Bernard Fanning’s solo album sounds like, but my notes were unnecessary (and completely unintelligible, anyway).
The truth is Bernard’s songs sound much the same as Powderfinger have sounded since their second album, albeit vaguely calmed by shades of country and western. Like the album that launched them to small-scene superstardom, the songs are warm, epic and heartfelt, timeless, intelligent and undeniably Australian. Bernard’s voice is without a doubt the most faultless, unique and extraordinarily beautiful in this country, and the entire room froze reverently in the candlelit darkness to hear him sing the sad honey heart-breaker Wash Over Me unaccompanied.
Grinning raggedly in a crumpled cream suit, he explained that The Thrill is Gone was a song he meant to be about growing up and leaving the whole rock scene behind (“which is bullshit, really, because I’m back playing with Powderfinger next year”), but while he sings the jaded I stand accused of the things I said, to condemn his career of the past, his sound hasn’t quite moved on. Whether or not this is a criticism depends on what kind of musician you like, because they are just same old songs, but the same old songs are still amazing.
Suffice to say that if you love him, and many many people clearly do, Bernard Fanning’s solo debut Tea and Sympathy will only tighten his wasted rock god grip around your heart.
— Simone Ubaldi