There's a sense of homecoming to Bernard Fanning's third solo album. It's not quite the prodigal son returning to the Brisbane Platinum mine of his youth, but Fanning is certainly re-embracing an old honesty, reclaiming some of the identity that he shrugged – deliberately enough – when setting out alone.
Recorded with producer friend Nick DiDia at a studio the pair built together in Byron Bay, Civil Dusk marries modern sparkle to shadows of Seventies AM rock – a tapestry of human voices and real instruments, imbued with organic honesty that's not naked, but rather tastefully well dressed.
It's a production aesthetic that perfectly matches the creative mood we find Fanning in. This is not the uncertain alchemist of Departures, nor is it the fledgling folkie of Tea and Sympathy, and while there's a sense the singer has accepted the elephant in the studio, he's also deftly put it in its place.
Ultimately, the impression that emerges from Civil Dusk – an album punctuated by personal themes of loss, devotion, consequence and reward – is of an artist comfortable with who he is, with what he's done, and, maybe most importantly, with what people want him to be.
First single "Wasting Time" has shades of Tea and Sympathy favourite "Wish You Well", playing safely to Fanning's shrewd radio sensibility, but plenty of other tracks could have introduced the album to the world. "Change of Pace" smothers Bob Seger in Oz rock ideology; "L.O.L.A." winks at Supertramp while simultaneously dispelling any notion of regret about Departures; and "What a Man Wants" juxtaposes a gospel choir chorus against angular guitar pop – potential singles all.
Even less intense moments could – and, in all likelihood, will – sit happily at radio. The melodic, mid-tempo magic of "Reckless" will please old fans, as will "Sooner or Later", which sees Fanning – aided by friend Kasey Chambers – once again dabbling with country-folk.
Less commercial, but no less compelling, "Rush of Blood" is a delicate piano ballad, Fanning trying explicit sentimentality and finding it fits him well; while stark opener "Emerald Flame" melts acoustic guitar and piano behind an aching struggle of emotions which admits, "one day you'll see the best of me, most nights now you wrestle with the rest of me".
The album closes with "Belly of the Beast", an intriguing cut perhaps best described in the form of a thought experiment: imagine if Cat Stevens had written "Sympathy for the Devil". It's a compelling conclusion, more so given Fanning has already announced that a sister album, Brutal Dawn, will follow early next year. If it resonates like Civil Dusk, they'll make a fine pair indeed.