Album appreciation: Frogstomp, by Silverchair - teenage Aussie grunge
Trio of 15-year-olds showed a lot of the talent on this album that led the band to have a successful career, selling eight million albums before they quit
Silverchair just couldn't win when they released this debut 20 years ago. The spotty 15-year-olds from the Australian suburbs were channelling the grunge gods they worshipped and outselling most of them, so there were bound to be haters.
Some said they sounded like Nirvana (true) and their singer sounded like Eddie Vedder (ditto). Some suggested their music was provided by other, older family members. Regardless, Frogstomp was a sensation, and the path the band and its members have followed since could be spun into any number of film scripts.
Frogstomp topped the charts in Australia - where Silverchair came to notice by winning a national demo contest with their cut of Tomorrow, the song that would become their first single and a No 1 hit. The album went top 10 in the US where audiences were similarly drawn to their sheer enthusiasm.
The music made them sound like adults, but public appearances reminded everyone of the reality. The three-piece were still finding time to attend high school as they began touring the world, supporting the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Ramones. The name of the band was taken from a favourite children's book - The Silver Chair, one of C. S. Lewis' Narnia tales - and charismatic lead singer Daniel Johns often seemed content to sink shyly beneath his floppy hair and let his fringe do the talking.
A whiff of controversy helped them grow up pretty fast though. Frogstomp's opening track - the dark and grinding Israel's Son - was cited by lawyers as the inspiration for a teen and his friend's murder of his parents and younger brother. And their rapid rise meant the media was - and in the case of Johns at least always would be - parked outside their doors.
A recent re-listen to Frogstomp reminds just how much talent is on show here. There's little doubt of the mimicry - and over time, Silverchair's sound would thankfully evolve almost constantly (and successfully, given sales of about eight million by the time they called it quits in 2011). But Frogstomp was masterfully produced by South African Kevin Shirley, who had helped frame the sound of Aussie rockers the Hoodoo Gurus and would go on to work with the likes of Aerosmith and The Black Crowes.
And he plays to Silverchair's strengths - driving rhythms and enigmatic lyrics spat out by Johns. Tomorrow is wonderfully of its time, a late-coming antidote to the breezy synthetic pop of the decade's early days that leans heavily on the grunge movement's mix of fast and slow tempos, while Israel's Son and Pure Massacre show that the boys' potential for the expansion that their range would follow in later years.
Silverchair Frogstomp (Epic Records)