Review: Silverchair, Freak Show (Epic)

By Chuck Eddy (Spin Magazine)

Down Under beach-teen trio Silverchair displayed billabong loads of angst on their 1995 debut frogstomp, but except for the song where they threatened to commit suicide by holding their breath, it wasn't quite the immature variety I hoped for. They looked cute playing atop Radio City Music Hall's roof and came off giddily unselfconscious in interviews, giggling about being pregnant or lighting underwear on fire. But instead of partying down, their music opted for a dreary undertow of rainy-afternoon darkness.

On the other hand, their outback drawling gains stateliness by pitching itself higher than the guitars and then stretching out final words of verses; and their whining gains credence just by being adolescent. If they had half the bounce of fellow grungewagon hijackers Local H or Ruth Ruth or Stone Temple Pilots (or of AC/DC or the Trashmen or Celibate Rifles, all of whose tunes they're said to cover on occasion) they'd be a blast; as is, they drown sorrows in too much Tool and Helmet.

Still, Freak Show is an improvement on frogstomp, varied with punkier speedups, fancier breaks, and more dramatic climbing from quietude interlude to dude attitude. The Door has a Zeppy zippiness swinging like the door in its chorus; the drums in Roses break levees like John Bonham. And where comparably majestic '80s Australian garagers Died Pretty added organs and saxes and mandolins, silverchair add violins, timpanis and sitars.

The Daniel Johns line in Tomorrow about "a bathroom but no sink/the water from the tap is very hard to drink" made me wonder where the tap was (in the bathtub?), and here too I can't tell whether he lives by a symmetry or cemetery, or whether his sailors are overboard or overbored. Suburbrats will identify with Dan's newly visible low self-esteem anyway. Slave and Abuse Me and Lie to Me all talk about enduring being a doormat; only in Learn to Hate do silverchair fight back. "If only I could be as cool as you," Johns sarcastifies in Freak, basically a creep-rocker in the Radiohead/Stone Temple tradition, except silverchair changed the title to protect the creepy. If the whole world was gawking at my growing pains, I'd feel like a freak show, too.