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20 years since: Silverchair's Frogstomp

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There’s a band of kids in every hall in the country. Teenagers hitting postures and clanging half-arsed chords, pretending to be big time. It’s almost a rite of passage.
A few get some gigs, maybe a party or even a pub somewhere. An even smaller number hang around long enough to make a living and maybe even hit that dreamed of big time years later. But the vast majority find themselves wondering about what could have been on their accountant lunch breaks or at dawn tradie breakfasts. A band called Innocent Criminals made that garage band dream come true. As Silverchair they released Frogstomp, their debut album, in 1995 and never looked back. History was their future.
The balls of the fresh faced trio of Ben Gillies (Drums), Daniel Johns (Guitar, Vocals) and Chris Joannou (Bass) had hardly dropped when they won a national new music competition on SBS. Then known as Innocent Criminals, the song they won for, Tomorrow, got high rotation on Triple J and generated a bidding war for their names on a recording contract.
Frogstomp emerged in March 1995. At the time the three lads were just 15. Their proximity to their childhood was reflected in their name: The Silver Chair is a fairly harrowing tale from the Narnia series by C.S.Lewis. But garage band kids aren’t supposed to be this good. The mainstream music public had only encountered manufactured boy or girl bands and precocious family talents driven by dollars-in-their-eyes parents like the Osmonds or the Jackson Five. Silverchair were something else: they were authentic and raw, they were political and dark, they were solid and powerful. This is not Backstreet Boys.
Chris Joannou’s chubby bass intros Frogstomp and sets the grunge-goth mood to come. Daniel John’s surprisingly raspy vocals lay down a lyric intensity that hardly lets up. “Israel’s Son” is scary. “Hate is what I feel for you / And I want you to know that I want you dead / You’re late for the execution… / If you’re not here soon, I’ll kill your friend instead.”
Fifteen eh?
This song was actually named in a murder trial in the US as an inspiration for the deed. Spotty fantasies hatched in dark bedrooms by kids who have watch too many snuff flicks can quickly go wrong when unleashed among the great unwashed. While the claim was subsequently quashed, you can imagine a few tight stomachs in the Johns, Joannou and Gillies families in downtown Newcastle at the news.
It was a brave or naive decision by the production team, headed by metal bigwig Kevin Caveman Shirley to allow these cloudy teen musings to go full tilt. Or maybe it was just another metal band and so let’s emphasise the horror movie stuff. Whatever, the fear and loathing lyrical assault is thematic of the album. Gillies and Joannou lay down a platform of iron and fire.
Tomorrow, the song everyone came to know them by, is a rant at inequality, political ineptitude, injustice and pending revolution. While some lines are a little search-for-a-rhyme clunky; “There’s no bathroom, and there is no sink / The water out of the tap is very, hard to drink” the sharpness of a line like “You gonna wait til, fat boy, / Fat boy, wait until tomorrow” and its audacious shape, is tingly and evocative.

A kind of puerile, simplified world view is the stock in trade of rock/metal acts, as is the dabbling with the devil stuff. What set Silverchair apart was the freshness of the delivery and the clean thrust of the content. This was not metal posturing. This was real pain, real anger. As Daniel Johns was to embody some years later, Silverchair — or the chief lyricist at least — came from a genuinely troubled place. These kids were truly pissed, and truly driven, not just trying to impress chicks.
What could be empty, school yard parody is a pounding statement by three intelligent and very talented young men.
Quality tracks line up like soldiers marching to war: Faultline, with its stop dead tight post-thrash finish; Pure Massacre, sounding like an orchestra of thump, the ballad Shade, like a melancholy soundtrack for Beyond Blue, the Iron Maiden-esque Leave Me Out, and the desperately painful – especially given Johns’ later issues – Suicidal Dream.
Things fade a little towards the end, although Cicada, which reminds us that “Growing up is like a civil war” is a strong track.
But, some inconsistency can be forgiven. Part of the genius of Frogstomp is that it capitalises on the slightly childish lyrical trope endemic to rock and metal by actually investing the genre with truly meaningful and insightful songlines from the mind of Johns and his cohorts. That it misses a little at times is perhaps understandable: it’s a delicate balance.
The genius of Frogstomp is also that it rides on the genres of metal, alt rock and grunge (somewhat creating the last) but doesn’t insult the forms with mere derivation. Each is added to, with barbed words, nice chord changes and a powerhouse, not cheapened, sound.
The temptation must surely have been to package these kids into wonder boys and to polish them to within an inch of their young lives, to make them more Milky Bar than Whisky Bar. What they got was an artistic licence and a support system that ensured they weren’t novelties or five-minute wonders, but actually serious musos with the world at their feet.
Frogstomp hit Number 1 on the ARIA album charts and stayed there for six weeks. It made Top Ten in the US. Tomorrow, the best selling track, made Number 1 in October 1995 in Australia and Number 1 on the Billboard “Modern Rock Tracks” chart. It hit 59 on the UK singles chart in 1995. The song won Three ARIAs, including “Best Single” and the album scored two.
You wonder what might have become of someone like Daniel Johns if he didn’t win the celebrity lotto and actually become one. Maybe he would have just got over his teen stuff or maybe he would have gone to a very dark place and never come back. With lyrics like that pouring from a teenager’s troubled heart, Mr and Mrs Johns must have been a little worried. Maybe the other boys were a good influence on the young Dedalus.
Silverchair went on to achieve a great deal. Their sound progressed and matured, understandably, and perhaps lost some of the raw power of Frogstomp. As an album in its own right, it’s pretty good. As a debut by three 15 year olds, it’s about as good as it gets. There are still kids out there today listening to Frogstomp and shitting themselves. And so they should.

11 responses to “20 years since: Silverchair's Frogstomp

  1. I’m not sure Frogstomp deserves commemoration. Actually, I’m sure it doesn’t. Really a fairy banal and throwaway grunge/ alternative offering in a genre that numbers some truly stellar records. I get that it’s Australian, but well…woop de doo.
    Tool’s Ænema would be a more fitting contender. That really did change the face of prog/alternative music and I doubt it’s been equaled since with perhaps the exception of lateralus…..Frogstomp comparatively sounds like it was made by a bunch of teenagers who were really into the undertow album and Alice in Chains…which was probably the case.

    1. Gotta disagree bud, silverchair were a straight out fun band to listen to. Can t say I ever had a lotta fun listen to tools dergish tunes.

      1. Comparing Frogstomp to Ænima is like comparing a child’s bicycle with training wheels and streamers to the spaceship that landed at Roswell. Tool’s music is rich, complex, mathematical, primal…They’re a one off band that inspired a generation of music, including Silverchair. Mentioning them in the same sentence as Silverchair is tantamount to travesty.
        Danny Carey, excuse me, is a godwarrior and one of the greatest living percussionists. Don’t believe me? Skip to 3:25 of this video–even this guy, who is a session drummer with 30 years experience struggles to replicate his playing. If you can’t be made to understand this, I’m sorry, you cannot be made to understand anything about music at all.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Cid-tgW2Lw
        If you like pop rock, that’s fine. But please–let’s not go nuts here and pretend that Silverchair were remotely innovative, and certainly Frogstomp isn’t worthy of commemoration.

  2. A terribly underdevelopment band that was thrust into the spotlight years before they were ready. This album is so bad and it always have me a headache. Very bland, generic and uninspired. Perhaps if the kids had a chance to mature, both musically and emotionally, this band may have had a chance at putting something good out.

  3. I bet you didn’t grow up when this came out. Never felt the electricity of it and def never got it at all. Tool were great but not universally adored either. Silverchair were perfectly of their time.

    1. Excuse me, I saw silverchair perform frogstom alongside powderfinger and something for kate (great band) as a teenager. This is when something for kate were virtually unheard of, and I loved them….I’m not sure they’d even presed a full album at that point, might have just been an EP. I have seen Helmet, Tool, radiohead, the deftones, Down, slayer, Fantomas, TMV/At the drive in and several other Mike Patton projects as well as devildriver multiple times and christ knows what else I can’t even remember right now. I have been to hundreds of concerts. More than You, I’d wager.
      I got to see Pantera live in festival hall. Pantera. They were supported by segression (never got enough respect, good band).
      Please don’t tell me I wasn’t there, and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I was there for most of it.
      Silverchair were a standard grunge/alternative band–unremarkable. I’m sorry, it is what it is. Honestly back then, if you wore a silverchair shirt you’d probably have been considered absolutely ridiculous within the scene.

    2. Can’t agree more. You really had to be there when it was out to understand the impact it gave to teenagers. I thought the coolness of this album will water down as I’m older but the truth is I still fins this album to be pretty awesome.

  4. Absolutely love this album, one of my favourites. Sure, it may not be internationally accepted as one of the best albums of all time nor particularly stand out in the genre in which it exists. It is however, fantastically raw, straight to the point and has shitloads of good riffs.

  5. great album that has aged pretty well, not bad for a bunch of 15 year old. Comparing to tool really isnt fair (altough i do hear similarities between this album and certain tool albums), the age difference is just so massive.

    1. It’s blasphemy to use Tool and Silverchair in the same sentence.

      But the guy from Silverchair did wear a Tool t-shirt in the Tomorrow video.

      I will go to confession on sunday.

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