Silverchair and Powderfinger lifted Aussie rock out of the doldrums in the 90s, speaking a new generation’s language different to AC/DC’s or the more mainstream sound of Midnight Oil and INXS. In Silverchair’s case that lingo was learned word for word from Seattle.
Their debut album, now given the 20th-anniversary, double-CD treatment, couldn’t be more heavily date-stamped 1995. The sweet-faced power trio of 15-year-olds who made it formed the year after Nevermind, and Nirvana and Pearl Jam are still flooding their hormonal systems. Frogstomp is as grunge as it gets. So was the world in ’95, which bought 3.5 million copies of the album.
Silverchair proved they were more than a tribute act during a career in which they branched out to work with the Beach Boys’ ornate arranger Van Dyke Parks, before finally splitting in 2011 after unbroken Australian success. Hints of staying power were already present in singer/guitarist Daniel Johns’ lyrics. Although his voice is a faithful facsimile of Eddie Vedder’s, his perspective is distinctively small-town; the band’s lives had mostly been spent in Merewether, an former mining suburb of Newcastle.
Their sense of run-down isolation is ramped up on Tomorrow, the song which broke them, in which Johns welcomes us to ‘a little town’ where ‘the water in the tap is very hard to drink’. It sounds more like the sort of rusty, dusty outback hell-hole passed through in Ozploitation B-movies like Mad Max and Wake In Fright, rather than Mereweather’s nondescript, beach-heavy reality, and Johns admitted those early lyrics were TV-inspired, imaginative leaps.
Grunge’s tendency to wallow in teenage misery is faithfully followed in Cicada, where ‘growing up is like a civil war’, and Suicidal Dream. But, like the glistening 60s guitar line which lets the light into Tomorrow’s Nevermind thunder, Findaway ends on a note of idealistic hope better suiting its makers’ fresh faces.
This reissue’s second disc includes the slightly rougher and more interesting, Oz chart-topping EP version of Tomorrow, and a local gig in which they’re equally competent and derivative. The influence of The Doors can be heard when the music stretches out live, and the fact that these Seattle-struck kids are Australian can finally be heard when they speak./o:p