Odyssey Number Five: 20th Anniversary Edition

Odyssey Number Five: 20th Anniversary Edition

“We were really brutal with songs,” Bernard Fanning tells Apple Music. “The bar was really high; we never liked the ‘album filler’ idea. And Odyssey was the first time that we conceptualized what we were trying to do.” There weren’t many bands that defined late-’90s and early-2000s Australian rock quite like Powderfinger. On their fourth full-length, released in 2000, their sound had never been so fully realized, nor structured—but it hadn’t come easy. The success of 1998’s Internationalist had sent the group into a media and touring tailspin, dragging them further away from the music itself. Still, the end result was more than just a career highlight—it’s an album of melodies and messages that, decades later, still feel as present and strong as ever. “Internationalist was stylistically quite chaotic,” Fanning says. “We wanted to make something more concise.” They worked with producer Nick DiDia for a second time (“we knew we had somebody that spoke our language”) to create an album that sounded broad in a compositional sense, but stylistically more refined. “The word we were using at the time was ‘panoramic,’” Fanning says. “That's what we were trying to do—make things sound really wide.” From the intro to “Waiting for the Sun” and the soaring melodies of “My Happiness” and “My Kind of Scene” to the powerful “Like a Dog” and tender closer “Whatever Makes You Happy,” it’s clear that they achieved what they set out to do. Here, Fanning talks through each song on Powderfinger’s career-defining record. Waiting for the Sun “I remember I started writing that in the bathroom of my hotel room in New York, on an acoustic guitar. It was after a really terrible phone call home to my partner at the time—we’d been touring so much, it puts a lot of stress on relationships, and we were just talking about that idea that things will be okay one day if I ever get home. I do have a demo from when I got home from that tour. It was just piano and acoustic guitar, and lots of harmonies. But we had that panoramic idea in mind. It really turned into a quite energetic rock song.” My Happiness “I would say that’s probably our most misconstrued song. It is a love song, but it's talking about the absence. That love comes and goes—not the love itself, but your physical presence. It’s written from the point of view of someone waiting for someone to come home. I'm the one coming home. ‘I see your shadow on the street now, I hear you push through the rusty gate’—I mean, we actually literally had a rusty gate at our house in those days. So that idea of coming back, and then being at home and it feels great, but then you have to pack up and go again. I know there are a lot of people who’ve used the song for weddings and whatnot, but that idea is kind of weird to me.” The Metre “Darren [Middleton, guitarist] had done a demo, which had a sample beat, a melody, and some lyrics. ‘The Metre’ was about that idea of trying to temper the idea of success, and dealing with all the hullabaloo outside of just the five of us. Again, that idea of coming home being the saving grace, and that sooner or later all of those absences and all of that noise were going to go away, and things would be okay. I think it's a hopeful song. The middle section is just so exciting, the strings combined with that big heavy riff. We hadn't done anything like that before.” Like a Dog “I remember the program director at Triple M refused to play it because it was too political, which just goes to show why the problem existed and probably why it still exists. It was probably coupled with the fact that we had Anthony Mundine in the clip. He was a controversial figure at that time, which was deliberate on our part. We said, ‘Look at this guy, he's a fucking incredible specimen of a human, and you may or may not agree with what he has to say, but just look at it.’ He was into it as well. The message of that song is pretty obvious. There had been an election just prior to that, where the motto for the Liberal Party was ‘Relaxed and Comfortable,’ and it just brought home that idea that it was okay for middle Australia to completely ignore the fact that the First Nations people were still some of the most disadvantaged people in the world and no one gave a shit, especially the government.” Odyssey Number Five “‘New Suburban Fables’ was a working title at one point. I’m not sure how 'Odyssey Number Five’ won the day. While we were getting the record together, we were just trying to catalog stuff. The very first one that we named was a big spacey jam, so we called it ‘Odyssey.’ And the next one that didn't have any lyrics or a title became ‘Odyssey Number Two’ and ‘Number Three,’ ‘Number Four,’ and ‘Number Five.’ This didn't have any significant meaning at all. But it's a fun song, and it should've been longer.” Up and Down and Back Again “The song is talking about dealing with becoming someone that was recognized and not really knowing exactly how to process all that. And about it being quite confusing, and trying not to be a pain about it—it's pretty unbecoming when people complain that fame has ruined their lives or whatever. So there's a bit of piss-taking in the drama of ‘Come and rescue me, I'm in the water deep.’ I think sometimes the humor and poking fun at ourselves in Powderfinger's music was missed, because it was delivered in such an earnest way, and also we weren't very good communicators in terms of interviews. I guess that's our own fault. We wanted to be taken seriously, but we could've done it with a bit more levity.” My Kind of Scene “I was listening to Double Fantasy, that John Lennon record, and the line 'I'll just wait and watch the wheels' is borrowed from ‘Watching the Wheels.’ There was all this emphasis in the '90s about the local scene and all of that sort of stuff, and that had started to change in Brisbane, because a few of the bands had become more successful and gone beyond that local level. It wasn’t about the Brisbane scene at all, but it’s about social alienation, feeling a bit sorry for yourself and saying, ‘I don’t really want to be involved in what’s cool or what’s supposed to be the hip thing happening right now. I’m not that interested.’ But as bleak as some of these songs at first appear, they are hopeful. ‘Worse to bad’ is just a play on words, of ‘bad to worse,’ and that’s part of the fun of writing lyrics. You can fuck around and put nonsense into lyrics and if it's delivered right and sung right—if it's communicated the right way—it makes its own sense.” These Days “It originally was written for the film Two Hands. It’s a song about pressure. The part where it appears in the film is kind of the key moment of the movie, which contributed to people becoming so aware of the song. It’s talking about that idea of pressure and how you respond to it, how you use your time. The chorus was about things that did not work out the way they were supposed to, how you imagined them, which is for most people an everyday occurrence. And I think that's part of why people relate to it so much, because it's not particularly specific, and people can feel like they can genuinely sing it themselves.” We Should Be Together Now “It’s not my favorite song. I just never really got into it. I really struggled to put something to it—the music's pretty good, but I was never really taken by the lyrics. When I listen to it now, I realize that there's fretless bass in it. That's a big problem for me—it’s the Casio keyboard of the bass world. It kind of sticks out, because it doesn't really feel like anything else on the record. It's a little bit basic.” Thrilloilogy “It started on Double Allergic: We had ‘Oipic,’ which was Powderfinger-speak for epic, and then we had ‘Capoicity,’ and then we had ‘Thrilloilogy.’ It was originally called ‘Trilogy,’ because it had three parts, and then Nick started calling it ‘Thrillogy,’ and then it became ‘Thrilloilogy.’ Just a stupid title. It’s a real Frankenstein song, because different bits were all placed together. It’s one of my favorite songs that we've ever recorded. I think it captures all of the elements of the band that were really good. Even the opening riff. The big lick at the start is Hauggy [Ian Haug, guitarist], with all the delays and weirdness, and then Darren playing the rhythm guitar, which he had written. They weren't just playing along with what was going on. They were doing their own thing.” Whatever Makes You Happy “My oldest best friend from when we were five, his mum died, and she was someone that I knew really well. She was really young, only 63 or something like that. And that was really the first time that I'd had to deal with the death of someone close to me. I was trying to imagine what she would say to her kids, from beyond life. Just saying, ‘Look, things are going to be pretty horrible for a while, but you've got your own life to live. You can live it without me. And think of me, but go and live your life.’ And it stood me in pretty stead eventually for when my brother died a few years later as well, and I think it also made me really open to the idea of talking and singing about grief, and that it was totally cool to do that. And in fact, incredibly healing and helpful.”

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