Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Silverchair - 'Young Modern'

I really have to begin this one with a quick recap. Silverchair, back in the 90s, were cherubic juvenile rockers from Australia who wanted very badly to sound like a Seattle band. Soon after getting signed and releasing their debut, however, they decided to move in a less derivative direction, adding orchestral touches to their music, until their last album, Diorama, consisted mainly of tuneful modern rock balladry buoyed up by lush orchestral arangements. A lot of Silverchair listeners consider this their finest hour, but I'm not much of a ballad listener. I prefer Neon Ballroom and Freakshow with their balance between riffy, somewhat heavy stuff and the softer, more intricate material.

Sometime in the early oughts, Silverchair hit a hiatus as main man Daniel Johns got on with various things in life. One of these was Dissociatives, a collaboration with electronica artist Paul Mac. The resulting album was a mix of electronica and quirky pop that felt too twee and and light to my tastes.

Now, Silverchair is back in action, but the fact that Johns has carried Mac back with him to the band suggests that they won't sound like any of the old Silverchairs did.

In fact, what we have here is a mix of very quirky pop music overlayed with various tones and textures, much like an album by The Beatles or Beach Boys from the latter part of their career. Fittingly, Van Dyke Parks, who also collaborated with Brian Wilson, adds arangements to some of these songs too. So what we have here is no longer dervative grunge, grunge plus orchestra or even the lush ballad rock of the last album. Instead, it's a quirky mix of songs that seems to draw from all sorts of diverse influences, none of which hark back to Seattle, circa 1991. A very diverse set of songs that perhaps aims to be the Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper's of its era.

That seems to be the ambition anyway.

In practise, any album with the cringe-inducingly sappy ballad 'Waiting All Day' would tend to be disqualified from keeping such august company. But that's my little tic, don't pay it too much mind.

On the other hand, the 'Those Thieving Birds (Part 1)/Strange Behaviour/Those Thieving Birds (Part 2)' 3-song suite is actually pretty cool. It's very ambitious, and it nearly succeeds in being a classic sequence of epic pop music. 'Mind Reader' is upbeat in a way that veers between chirpy and manic, and manages to be more Art Brut than anything I've heard by Art Brut, and cop some Ziggy-Bowie vibes as well. 'Young Modern Station' is a bit studied and over-produced like everything here tends to be, but even so, the sheer joyous feeling of playing together again comes through. 'Straight Lines' on the other hand is little more than a standard modern rock power ballad, very disposable. Perfect single material, in other words. 'Reflections Of The Sun' is perhaps the most succesfull ballad here, and it's refreshing in its relative straightforwardness. 'If You Keep Losing Sleep' is anything but straightforward though, very Beatles-esque totally mad pop rock. More Macca than Lennon, if you know what I mean. Then there's 'Low' which keeps threatening to rip off the lick from 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', and 'Insomnia' which kinda rocks in a very queasy way. 'All Across The World' ends things on an epic and psychedelic note, and makes it impossible not to trot out the Abbey Road comparisons.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Uhh. I hate trying to summarise every song around, but this album is too wilfully varied to sum up as whole in any easy way. In a way, it puts me in mind of a transitory album by The Who, where the band has already shot its load on a bunch of classic stuff and is lurching around wondering what to do next, trying a bit of everything. But is it Silverchair's 'A Quick One' or is it their 'Who Are You'? Only time will tell, I suppose. I certainly can't - this album is as intriguing as it is confusing. A bit of everything. At least they're not playing it safe.


100hands said...

Sabaash mere Subaash.
In my opinion "The man that knew too much" is the best track on this album. I have heard it about 50 times and its still on repeat.
This albums definitely a grower. Up there with Petsounds, Astral Weeks and St. Peppers for sure...

100hands said...

Erm, its "Young Modern" ra... What's "New modern" ra magaa?

JP said...

It's what we call a typo! :)

It certainly shoots for Pet Sounds/etc territory - I think it mostly gets there.

100hands said...

Man, thats an amazing compliment for the album if you think so... Dont you think "if you keep losing sleep' sounds like Frank Sinatra on acid?

JP said...

It's in the territory. I don't know if it's going to settle down well or besmirch the area like a tramp on the front lawn yet. :)