Music Review: Silverchair's Young Modern

by Stephen Tringali

Silverchair’s newest release in five years, the curiously titled Young Modern, finds the band exploring new sonic landscapes that both divorce them from previous grunge idols Nirvana and Pearl Jam and worship a new set of idols, including David Bowie, Queen, and bar-band rock and roll.

Those who have followed Silverchair since their rise as 15-year-old Australian all-stars know that their music is built on hero worship. The group’s first album, Frogstomp, was a loving, if ill-composed, ode to the grunge music that they listened to while growing up. But despite all the wisdom that went along with imitating the best of that breed (Nirvana and Pearl Jam), Silverchair fell short of their ambition — to be just as good as the bands they admired.

Cut Silverchair some slack, the fans might say. They weren’t afforded the comforts that most aspiring young artists get. Their music never found maturation within the thick walls of someone’s basement or within the hallowed spaces of another’s empty barn — places where few people, if anyone at all, could hear them.

Instead, Silverchair fell under unfortunate circumstances. You might wonder how making it big at such a young age might be an unfortunate circumstance. It’s really quite easy. Dump three 15-year-olds in the middle of the alt-rock limelight and see how they fair.

Silverchair’s music grew up in front of an audience. Never able to iron out the wrinkles in their song craft, they succumbed to the somewhat embarrassing and very adolescent practice of hero worship.

But that was 13 years ago. Now each Silverchair member is 28 years old. They’ve had five years since their last release to rethink their approach. But they still arrived at the same conclusion: cheap imitation is better than experiment or innovation. Take an audience that already exists, write music that suits their ears, and capitalize.

No way am I going to cut them any slack.

Silverchair’s first single, “Straight Lines,” is catchy enough with its cooing backing vocals, its swelling chorus, and its piano and keyboard-heavy instrumentals. But there’s an impending sense that the album just won’t hold. And the next song immediately confirms this.

“If You Keep Losing Sleep” finds Silverchair dabbling in rock that owes more to show tunes than to adult alternative. But it would seem that Silverchair’s done with Coldplay listeners. Instead, they’re hedging a way into the musical market. So watch out High School Musical — your days on the Billboard charts are numbered.

A seven-minute track entitled “Those Thieving Birds (Part 1) / Strange Behavior / Those Thieving Birds (Part 2)” continues the show tunes theme with even more embellishments. Lead singer Daniel Johns serves up some dramatic sap, while an orchestral accompaniment tickles the gag reflex like Mr. Mistoffelees prancing about in beer-soaked flannel.

Like that drunken image of the magical street cat, Silverchair have disguised their music in the clothes of legitimacy. But there’s a problem with this kind of imitation — it’s never as good as the real thing. And you can always spot the fakes.

(The promotional photo of Silverchair performing in Manchester, U.K., this month is from Eleven Music. Silverchair will continue their world tour with a performance in Paris tonight. To see Silverchair's video for "Straight Lines" please check below.)

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Anonymous said...

You call it cheap imitation yet in your small part that is the actual review you dont back that up at all. Every piece of music has some sort of influence - nothing is completely original, musicians dont exist in a vaccuum. Having said that, Young Modern is highly creative. You failed to name the song that If You Keep Losing Sleep is ripping off..? Seems more like a bias that you just dont want to shake. "I was right in my judgement of them when they were derivative grunge kids and I'M STILL RIGHT NOW"

Rick Rockwell said...

Unfortunately, Steve is not writing for the blog at this juncture and so I am unsure if he will be responding to your criticism of his critique.

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