Australian trio Silverchair formed at the age of 12 in an industrial town in Newcastle, Australia. They had no idea what their future would hold, all they wanted was to play music and have fun. But when singer/guitarist Daniel Johns, bassist Chris Joannou and drummer Ben Gillies released debut single Tomorrow in October 1994, it went straight to number one in Australia. Then in 1995 Frogstomp went to number one in the album charts, a feat not before accomplished with a debut album by another Australian artist.
It’s difficult to believe that this multi-platinum debut album from three young teenagers is 20 years old now. Released way back when I was 13 years old, it was one of the very first albums that brought out my love for rock music. Being a little too young to have appreciated Nirvana and the other late 80’s and early 90’s Seattle bands myself, this was my avenue into the world of grunge and teenage angst.
Now at the age of 33, I am sat here listening to the remastered anniversary edition with much anticipation. As soon as the distant bassline for Israel’s Son starts to echo around the room, fond memories start to flood back to me. This song is the perfect way to open the album and it uses a slow build up to draw you in before plying you with a rhythmic and dirty sounding riff. The lyrics are very serious and adult themed to have come from the mind of someone so young. However this won’t be the only time this album will draw you to that conclusion. As the song continues it gets more and more frenetic until the final second when Daniel is screaming the words from his lungs. The meaning of the song may be vague but it hasn’t lost any of its vitriolic punch in two decades.
Then as soon as the opener releases you, you are transported to a place of soft guitars leading you down a beautiful path into Tomorrow. This is perhaps for me, the stand out track on the album. It’s a fantastic mix of anthemic vocals, a killer riff and interludes of tranquillity that simply just work. This might explain the fact that the song reached number one in the Australian charts and stayed there for an impressive six weeks.
Faultline takes a slightly grittier approach. The music is very reminiscent of Alice In Chains, which is no bad thing and the band have stated them as one of their influences. The lyrics refer to a friend who has tragically passed away. Whether they are intended to be taken literally or figuratively is unclear. But they seem to be a tribute to someone lost. It’s a dark song that provokes thought.
Another classic track from the album is Pure Massacre. The rhythm is spot on and Daniel’s voice completely belies his young age. It’s a thumping reminder of some of the atrocities in the world. However it does beg the question as to whether these were totally informed choices as lyrical topics or perhaps chosen for their shock value?
In stark contrast to this is next song Shade. The guitar, bass and drums are toned down and subdued to create a terrific sound that is extremely pleasing to listen to. The lyrics are very simple and short but they seem much more heartfelt and that they may relate to the band personally. They offer support to others who have been hurt and abused but their simplicity shows that support is all the band can offer. They can’t fix your problems but they will stand with you to speak out and stand up for yourself.
The heavily Nirvana-esque Leave Me Out demonstrates the band’s love for the Seattle heroes. The riff is huge and catchy and Daniel’s voice seems less refined than in other songs. It could easily have been a Cobain B-side.
Suicidal Dream is a complete mindfuck of a song. There are no two ways about it. The music is hauntingly beautiful and lulls you into a state of calm that is just the eye of the storm. Because all around you are whirling lyrics that belong on the cover of a school notebook. Except this is the notebook of a very troubled young man. Contemplating suicide is always a difficult topic to write about. Whether Daniel was writing about his own bullying experiences or a friend’s, this is raw and a little unsettling to be coming from the mind of 15 year old. However as a piece of music, it is truly bewitching.
After the experimental speed and aggression that is Madman, comes Undecided. An angst-ridden song about parental break ups and the effect these can have on the innocent children. It’s dark, angry and all you’d expect from the lyrical topic. Cicada is the penultimate song and immediately hits a chord with me. It’s all about the issues of growing up and into an adult. At first as a child you only have to worry about your toys, then more and more stresses and worries appear the older you get. The very autobiographical sounding lyrics echo what Daniel must’ve been feeling with a difficult childhood and finding fame at an early age. It’s a beautiful song and one I wish I could have witnessed them play live.
To round off an album, most bands choose something melancholy and serene; I’m so glad Silverchair decided not to. They finish with an absolute banger. The very pop-punk styled Findaway. It talks about being locked up and losing your privileges; drugs taking hold and trying to find a way out. But the way it delivers this literal, or perhaps metaphorical, message is with an uplifting and anthemic tune that can’t help but put a smile on your face. It’s fun to listen to and brings a nice close to the proceedings.
Before I draw a conclusion, I have to mention the second disc included with this anniversary edition. It contains an extra 10 tracks from various sources. A fantastic rendition of Blind, the vocal version of Madman not featured on the original pressing, a great song I hadn’t previously heard entitled Acid Rain and some great live recordings from one of their shows at The Cambridge in Australia. These, along with the 11 remastered originals, make it a very tempting purchase for fans who may not have listened to this CD in a while.
Overall this album means many things to many people. On the downside it may seem a little raw and basic. The lyrics, albeit some of them with mature themes, can be on the simplistic side and not all of the themes will carry on being relevant to you forever. Their second album, Freakshow, is a more rounded opus. It moved in a more rock direction and left the grunge somewhere in the rear view mirror.
However, the whole Frogstomp album was and still is mightily impressive. If you take all factors into consideration, it’s far more accomplished than anything else I’ve seen. The guys were all friends from school and aged 15. The musicianship is fantastic and some of the songs on this record still get me head banging to this day; Israel’s Son I’m looking at you here. Some of the lyrics are mildly concerning coming from young teens but on the flipside they show intelligence. The writing shows a want to question the world, express feelings, get rid of negatives and be positive. All while still growing up and trying to figure out who they really were.
This album may not be their best work, but it was their first effort and paved the way for a wonderful career. How many musicians can say they have a 20th anniversary CD at the age of 35? This magnificent collection of songs was praised by critics and fans alike. It’s fully deserved and they should be eternally proud.
Words by Colm Browne