While legendary Australian rock group Powderfinger took a breather between their final records, Bernard Fanning was busy crafting his first solo project; 2005’s with the award-winning Tea & Sympathy. Some years later, Powderfinger famously called it a day leaving Fanning to continue his musical journey independently. This resulted with Departures in 2013, a solo stepping-stone album which felt slightly out of place until now. His newest addition, Civil Dusk (part one of two albums with Brutal Dawn to be released in early 2017), has proven that contemporary alternative rock still exists in our music industry and shines ever so brightly.
After Fanning returned to Byron Bay from Madrid, where he wrote the majority of the album, he and his family converted their pool-shed-come-recording-studio into La Cueva – ‘the cave’ in Spanish. Over the next six months, Nick DiDia (Powderfinger Producer) and Matt Engelbrecht (Fanning’s Musical Director) would work alongside Fanning to create Civil Dusk – ,a glorious nod to the past, present, and future. The change of scenery must’ve worked it’s magic on these men; the quality of this album is Fanning’s best effort so far. The sound production from DiDia is truly exquisite, the modern influences from Engelbrecht are a welcome surprise and the lyrics are a shimmering beacon of dialogue between decision and consequence.
From the outset, you can feel the similarities with his previous work – there are old-school folk acoustics melted with piano ballads and robust rock ’n ’roll. ‘Wasting Time’ is the first winner on the record, a collaborative modern take on bouncy ‘70s grooves. Fanning’s famous nylon guitar strumming backed up with glowing backing vocals, bass by Ian Peres (Wolfmother) and spritely pitter-patter percussion from Hamish Rosser (The Vines). Another flashback track is ‘What A Man Wants’ which could’ve passed as a Powderfinger hits; it’s everything we miss from the good old days!
Don’t be fooled by the raucousness, however, there are sombre moments to be found, namely ‘Rush Of Blood’, which digs deep with lyrics like “A bleak and brutal sadness nobody could contrite … In a rush of blood I threw it all away, Oh Lord, what was I thinking of that day?”. As per usual, Fanning says what we wish we could but he does it succinctly and eloquently. His lyricism is diverse yet pointed and everybody takes something different away from each song almost like looking into a kaleidoscope and finding a new beauty each time.
‘Belly Of The Beast’ is his first single and a real political triumph. It’s a hard-hitter about the failures of our government, what we need to do and how we must come together to create something beautiful. There’s a video accompanying the tune with photos of leaders from around the world and it’s genuinely moving, not to mention exciting to see a musician expanding on politics and general unhappiness with the western world. Fanning has always been open about his beliefs and has used his prominence to share them, whether it’s ‘Like A Dog’ from his Powderfinger days or this stellar new tune calling us to action.
For the first time, it feels as if Fanning can let loose and just create. No longer pigeonholed as that-guy-from-that-band, he’s can stretch his legs and dive into harmonica riffs reflective of Bob Dylan, the random country jive and even xylophones and electro loops.
All in all, Civil Dusk is a success of adult power-pop and organic grassroots rock. He’s struck a chord (or two) about coming together, about creating something bubbly and rustic and this album sounds like Fanning truly enjoying himself, therefore, we can enjoy it too. If Tea & Sympathy were the foundations of Fanning’s solo efforts, melding genius songwriting with pure guitar talent, Departures were the framework to build off with electronic elements and contemporary lyricism. That leaves Civil Dusk to insulate and protect our cold bodies with warmth and joy and hopefulness. This little musical house that Bernard Fanning is creating has shaped up magnificently and if Civil Dusk is anything to go by, Brutal Dawn will decorate our souls completely.
8 / 10
Civil Dusk is out now via Dew Process/Universal Music Australia