CD Review of Young Modern by Silverchair

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Young Modern
starstarstarstarno star Label: Eleven
Released: 2007
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Rock and roll never forgets but it does, occasionally, forgive, and for that, Silverchair should thank their lucky stars. The group may have continued to be superstars in their native Australia, but their perception in America was relegated to spending nearly a decade on the ass end of a grunge joke. This is grossly unfair for a number of reasons; after all, the band members were a mere 15 years old when their Vedderlicious debut, Frogstomp, dropped in 1995. Anyone who knows a 15-year-old knows that to describe them as fickle is generous to say the least, and Silverchair were no exception. By their third album, 1999’s Neon Ballroom, Silverchair had shed their grunge skin in favor of more experimental territory, and by the time they recorded 2002’s Diorama, they sounded like a different band yet again (Van Dyke Parks arranging the strings, anyone?). But let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Silverchair didn’t abandon grunge because grunge was no longer trendy. They simply outgrew it, and would have done so whether or not Kurt Cobain had starting the ticking clock on grunge’s commercial viability by checking out the year before the band’s debut.

And with that, Your Honor, Silverchair’s defense rests. If we may, we’d like to proceed with the cross-examination of their new record.

Anyone who heard The Dissociatives, the 2005 album by Silverchair singer/principal songwriter Daniel Johns and keyboardist/DJ Paul Mac, will not be at all surprised by Young Modern, Silverchair’s new album. It’s basically the Dissociatives making a big, crazy pop/rock record, which, for those who aren’t familiar with the Dissociatives, is a very, very cool thing. Johns’ voice, once a Veddertone, is now a feathery but powerful tenor, and it fits the band’s new groove well, since his new songs are more interested in making you dance and sing than rocking your socks off. Leadoff single “Straight Lines” is a perfect example, with a slow build to an unforgettable sky-high chorus. “Low,” meanwhile, sports a classic ‘70s rock vibe, slide guitar and all. There are more ambitious moments, like the “Those Thieving Birds” suite, and while each part is entertaining on its own, it doesn’t exactly flow. Good thing, then, that it’s soon followed by the showstopper of a ballad “Waiting All Day,” which has a chorus so falsetto-y fantastic that a-ha has to cover the song post haste.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Young Modern, for those left out there who still soak up liner notes as if their lives depended on it, is that the album was produced by Nick Launay (check your older brother’s INXS and Midnight Oil records). Launay would certainly have the experience to recreate the ‘70s aspects of “Low,” but how did Johns convince him to keep the drum tracks from reverberating to the rafters? That co-producing credit of Johns’ appears to be more than an empty title.

Silverchair will likely tell you that they made Young Modern with no one but their faithful fans in mind, but Johns placed a very telling lyric in the album’s last song. “All across the world / there are things we need to forget and forgive,” the chorus declares. While Johns clearly had his eye on matters greater than the state of pop music or Silverchair’s future viability with American consumers, it’s a curious statement just the same, considering that the band would love it if the music-buying public forgave Silverchair for their trespasses. Luckily for them, they gave the public a number of valid reasons to do just that.

~David Medsker