"Neon Ballroom" Review

(Electric Music Online)

Rating: 91%

I thought they’d never do it. I mean, I admitted, somewhat grudgingly, that Freak and The Door, two singles off their second album Freak Show were OK, but I always thought it would take them at least three albums to release a half-decent one. I was of the school of thought that they should have released their first album and then gone into hibernation for about four to five years, then re-emerged with a different name and a more mature sound. Well, Neon Ballroom is here to prove me wrong.

Nick Launay has to be given a lot of credit here. frogstomp not only lacked decent songs and direction, but also a bass line (no thanks to the well-respected Kevin “Caveman” Shirley there). Launay improved the latter aspect with Freak Show, but the overall sound was murky and lacking “sonic oomph”. Well Neon Ballroom has more “sonic oomph” than any record since nine inch nails’ the downward spiral. So powerful is it that it may overwhelm some listeners drawn in by the hooks of first single Anthem for the Year 2000, which has been given a different mix on the album by Paul Mac than to the single version. Another big “thank-you” must go to Jane Scarpantoni who programmed the somewhat excessive (they permeate nearly every track) strings – they sound fantastic and add to the songs rather than complementing them.

But the biggest credit has to go to Daniel Johns. His songwriting skills have improved out of sight – no longer is he simply copying his peers and influences, but is instead writing songs with their own structure and sound. Obviously having two hit albums has affected this, but I’d hazzard a guess that ex-girlfriend Adalita (from excellent noise band Magic Dirt) has had a big influence on Johns’ writing style. Tracks like opener Emotion Sickness (featuring a manic piano line from David “Shine” Helfgott), Dearest Helpless and Do You Feel the Same portray this. Even stadium-rocker Anthem… shows some Magic Dirt-like tendencies in the spoken-sung style of the bridge.

I can’t pick a weak song. But, being a firm anti-silverchair fan (whose wavering on the admitting-that-the-little-buggers-have-talent line) I have to pick a few. So I choose the somewhat insipid anti-ballad Miss You Love and the punk-rock workout Satin Sheets. I wanted to pick on stadium-rocker “Anthem… "but I really like that one – it’s a big fun dumb rawk song! I also wanted to pick on the incredibly angry Spawn Again but that one just sounds so awesome that I can’t.

Perhaps, like rival Ben Lee’s latest release (Breathing Tornados), silverchair have finally come of age. Neon Ballroom certainly shows that they have a veritable shitload of talent to work with. If they keep growing as a band like this, their fifth or sixth album should be a masterpiece. In the meantime, Neon Ballroom is a mighty fine album indeed.