When three teenagers from the Newcastle beachside suburb of Merewether released their debut album two decades ago they had no expectations. In the words of Silverchair frontman, Daniel Johns, they “just wanted to be a garage band”. The world, however, had other plans for Johns, drummer Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou, and frogstomp became an instant commercial and critical success. The first debut from an Australian artist to enter the ARIA charts at number 1, the album and young Australian rock band continued to make waves abroad, achieving similar successes in the United States.
Although I wasn’t quite old enough to understand or appreciate the way frogstomp flawlessly captured the uncertainties, anger and grief of a generation when it was originally released, as a Novocastrian myself, I was introduced to our most famous exports as soon as I could relate. Silverchair are probably one of our greatest success stories and a large portion of the town’s population has this album and at least one other in their collection. Old hotels still display their posters proudly, and if you stood in line behind Ben Gillies in Office Works (as I had the honour of doing so at 14), you had basically met royalty. Silverchair, surfing (or attempting to at least once in your adolescence) and forming your own musical outfit are the three solid facts of growing up in Newcastle.
Understandably then, there’s been quite a lot of excitement in the city recently, and in other parts of the country, as Daniel Johns dropped his debut solo EP Ariel Love. And we’re getting a double dose of the rock icons as the band celebrates the 20th Anniversary of frogstomp’s release with a beautifully remastered edition of the striking debut.
That fearless riff of Israel’s Son sounds as belligerent and visceral as ever, opening the LP and bringing it into full swing with a frantic accelerando. Similarly, Madman, Undecided and Leave Me Out preserve a violent distortion that accompanies frenzied torment. Faultline, Shade and Suicidal Dream, whose “teenagery” prose is perhaps not quite as applicable to adult life, are still heartrending and evocative, recalling universal themes of teen anguish, while the unruly, punk-inspired Findaway offers some optimism amongst the angst. And those big singles Tomorrow and Pure Massacre too retain the sonic quality and emotional intuition that made them such huge hits among young Australians.
The remastering is noticeable if you know the original album, but definitely not distracting or detracting. As Musician magazine wrote at the time, the band deftly used “feedback and distortion to build vast cathedrals of sound of their bar-chord riffs and lean, catchy choruses,” and that reality has not changed in this new edition. It has not only preserved the ensemble relationship that has always stood out as one of the band’s strongest assets, but has made that relationship clearer. Often times we can hear Johns’ vocals much more forward in the mix, and there is seamless quality to the remastered edition, in which each part isn’t as discernable from the next. With the addition of retrospect, you can really hear the quality of Johns’ still developing voice and appreciate exactly where and how his stunning adult voice was fostered.
In addition to the standard remastered 1CD release, is a 2CD + DVD deluxe version featuring rare live versions of some of the biggest tracks, as well as gems from the Tomorrow EP, music videos, a 1995 live concert from the still standing and flourishing Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle. And if you’re really keen to relive your youth, you can also purchase a limited edition yellow vinyl release, reminiscent of the high collectable original green vinyl album. While frogstomp was arguably never Silverchair’s seminal output, it remains an exceptional debut that became a clear indication of their future musical success, which really should be revisited every once in a while.