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Monday March 19, 2001

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By Phil Leckman

Odyssey Number Five


Grade: B

Quick - what do you know about Australian music? If you're like most Americans, the answer is probably "not much."

Here in the U.S., Aussie rock begins with one-hit wonder Men at Work and ends with one-hit wonder Silverchair, with little or nothing in between. This is a pity. While some Australian bands lift heavily from their British or American peers, the island continent has its own musical trajectory, one that often provides a respite from the trends governing the American scene.

Take Powderfinger, for instance. Odyssey Number Five, the Brisbane-based band's fourth full-length album, is by no means revolutionary - the group's shining, anthemic rock treads a well-worn groove that references sounds from Britpop to classic folk to Zooropa-era U2.

But while Powderfinger wears its influences on its sleeve, it still manages to avoid sounding dated or easily pigeonholed. The Metre is a good example. Again, it's nothing shocking - singer Bernard Fanning croons like a less alien version of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, supported by guitarist Ian Haug's Byrds-like harmony vocals and a Zeppelin-infused string section. But a warm, surprisingly countryish bassline anchors the tune, allowing it to transcend its influences and become more than the sum of its parts. Overall, Powderfinger sounds refreshingly relevant for a straight-up alternative rock band - the media-driven trends that so often stifle American rock are much less evident here.

What, with last summer's Olympics and the current "Survivor II: The Outback" series, the land down under has seen a lot of the spotlight lately. Here's hoping bands like Powderfinger can join in the media attention. Stateside music fans looking for something new would do well to realize there's more to Australia than koalas and kangaroos.