Celebrating 20 Years of Silverchair’s ‘Frogstomp’

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In the last week of March in 1995, a band of three long-haired, fifteen-year-old grunge disciples from working class Newcastle in northern New South Wales shot to worldwide prominence courtesy of their enthusiastically received debut album Frogstomp. That band was known as Silverchair and for a nine-year-old Australian kid, raised on the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, The Offspring and Alice in Chains, they may as well have been God, and Frogstomp The Bible.

I was one such nine-year-old and for me Frogstomp marked the first moment where I felt like I had discovered a band on my own, before or at least at the same time as the rest of the world, and more importantly without the guidance of my older siblings. Of course in hindsight you could argue that I’d really just been susceptible to my first major label marketing campaign, but at the time it felt incredibly empowering. (To this day the thrill of discovering a new act remains one of my favourite things about being a music fan).

I must have played that cassette on endless repeat every day for at least two months, immersing myself in every fuzzed-out note and thumping rhythm as I sang every single word at the top of my lungs, with absolute conviction. This album would change the world I thought, and I wanted to be able to tell everyone that I lived it. I must have burned through hundreds of batteries in my off-brand Walkman before that cassette finally succumbed and I had to resort to blasting my brother’s CD copy in the lounge room whenever he wasn’t busy playing all of the other records that would go on to become essential influences on my life.

I loved everything about Frogstomp, from the title to the cover art, to the singles “Tomorrow,” “Israel’s Son” and “Pure Massacre,” and ballad “Shade,” through to the punk-infused album tracks “Madman” and “Findaway.” I loved Ben Gillies’ heavy-hitting drumming, Chris Joannou’s bass tone and the way it locked in with Ben’s drums and Daniel’s guitars to create a huge wall of sound; and I especially loved Daniel Johns’ vocals. Johns was to me what Cobain had been to my older brother. Put simply, this band, whose name was a portmanteau of a misspelled Nirvana B-side (“Sliver”) and a You Am I single (“Berlin Chair”), and who the press had dubbed “Nirvana in Pyjamas,” were my heroes, and at that age, heroes seem infallible.

So it was with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia that I looked at the cover of the 20th anniversary reissue of Frogstomp, took out the CD and with a mixture of trepidation and excitement pressed play. As I did I wondered, if 20 years on, this record that Johns himself has practically disowned would still hold up to the near-mythical status I had assigned it in my memories. It turns out that I needn’t have worried, because the second that primal sounding bass riff of “Israel’s Son” brought Frogstomp screaming to life, it became clear that no amount of physical, musical or mental maturation could ever remove the power that these songs have over myself or millions of other listeners around the world. So while the music critic in me knows that there are more essential albums in the musical pantheon (heck there’s even more essential Silverchair albums; Neon Ballroom is far superior to Frogstomp in every conceivable way), and that there’s some definite filler tracks (“Cicada” and “Madman”) and that the lyrics aren’t exactly the most sophisticated pieces of prose (they were 15 years old when they penned them, after all), my mind simply ceases to care about any of these facts the minute the music hits my ears. So the majesty of the listening experience remains untouched and I am able to bask freely in the nurturing warmth of nostalgia, as for 44 minutes I relive the experience of being nine years old.

The remastered edition of Frogstomp sounds incredible and the sonic improvement’s serve to amplify rather than detract from the emotional connection, while leaving much of Kevin Shirley’s amazing production work untouched. “Israel’s Son,” “Leave Me Out,” “Madman” and “Undecided” sound as visceral and violent as ever, with the raw instrumentation providing a perfect backdrop for Johns’ still developing, anguished vocals to wreak their havoc. “Faultline,” “Shade” and “Suicidal Dream” tug at the heartstrings as Johns channels Cobain, Vedder and Cornell as he seeks to convey the struggles and teenage angst that defined this portion of the early ’90s, with his distinct Australian accent and phrasing offering a point of difference that raise his contributions beyond the realms of mimicry, placing him on the road to the vocal greatness he will go on to achieve.

“Pure Massacre” and “Tomorrow” retain a timeless quality that all great songs have, and it is during these two tracks that I truly find myself lost in the moment, singing along with the Australian voice of my generation, as his fuzzed-out guitar locks in with Gillies’ driving drums and Joannou’s rumbling bass for a combined ten minutes of greatness.

When the disheveled punk rock strains of “Findaway” fade out from the speakers and silence brings me back to my 29-year-old adult state, I cannot help but marvel at the fact that after all these years (excuse the pun), Frogstomp, an album made by three fifteen-year-old boys, retains this much power and continues to remain this damn essential to my life. If only we could convince them to reform for a 20-year anniversary tour – but I get the sense from John’s recent comments that we might have to ‘wait ‘till tomorrow’ unto eternity for that. So instead I’ll just press play on the B-sides and disappear into nostalgia’s warm glow once more.

Frogstomp turned 20 on March 27. The 20th Anniversary Edition of Frogstomp was recently released via Sony and is streaming now on Spotify. A deluxe edition has been released in Australia that features a special fold-out Digipak case with embossed cover that features two CDs and a DVD. This pack includes the original album remastered, as well as a rarities CD and a live DVD from the Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle recorded in 1995. The pack also includes rare photos taken by Tony Mott from the era of the album and special liner notes from Craig Mathieson. It can be purchased here.

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