Powderfinger - Unreleased (1998-2010) album review

Powderfinger
(Image credit: Supplied)

POWDERFINGER
Unreleased (1998-2010)
UNIVERSAL

Though dreams of a proper, full‑fat comeback still aren’t likely to come true anytime soon, Powderfinger have finally sauntered back out into the spotlight – their first time as a full, well-oiled unit in ten viciously long years – holding in tow (as a follow-up to the instantly iconic One Night Lonely livestream) almost 40 minutes of previously unheard gold from across their 12-year stint as Australia’s most charismatically crushing rock titans. 

In more than a few ways, the simply titled Unreleased compilation may be more lucrative to longtime ‘Finger fans than any new set of tunes ever could be; here the band don’t have to emulate the good ol’ days, because, well, these are the good ol’ days – fully intact is the emphatically youthful prickliness in Bernard Fanning’s singing, the dry, unpolished grit in his voice carrying a wallop of character with every earnest line he belts.

The interplay between his and Darren Middleton’s rugged and rough shredding feels beautifully authentic – because it is. Especially on the earlier cuts showcased, when the band were far more concerned with jamming out and playing rockstar than writing hits (and actually being rockstars), you can really hear when a riff came about in the spur of the moment, or when there’s a tinge of improv being weaved into a solo. It’s not all squeaky clean or overly tight – it’s fun. And that’s what defined Powderfinger at their strongest points: the unapologetic sprightliness and raw zeal they shone with.

As we wind deeper down the rabbithole into Powderfinger’s mid-‘00s peak, we’re treated to some of their sharpest and most emotionally rousing songwriting efforts: the punchy Tele juts and trickling synth on “Rule Of Thumb” make clear how far the band came in writing songs aimed to get stadiums full of fans thrashing about; the stiff and searing poetry on closer “Wrecking Ball” shows Fanning at his most determined to get a sea of lighters waved around, the understated keys and vocal harmonies adding a wonderful touch to the almost country-esque guitars that whistle and warble on.

It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think Powderfinger were just going to let these gems rot away in the vault. They claim the tracks weren’t unearthed until now because they had “no place” on earlier releases, yet they offer some of the band’s catchiest, liveliest and most all‑out rockin’ material. It feels like a ‘greatest hits’ CD from a parallel universe where these were all platinum‑selling singles in their own rights – a breathtaking barrel down Powderfinger’s stylistic hall of fame, from their loose and livid halcyon days to their opulent final breaths. An essential grab for any level of fan.

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Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Their bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (on which they also serve as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Their go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, they only picked up after they’d joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped them see the light…