Review Summary: A steady evolution towards a more adventurous end.
Coming out two years after the band's 1995 debut and worldwide hit Frogstomp
, Freak Show
was released when singer and guiatrist Daniel Johns, bassist Chris Joannou and drummer Ben Gillies were all still at the remarkably young age of seventeen. However, while Frogstomp
being the huge success it was, their youth showed on it. It resonated most with their fellow youths of the day, still infatuated with the grunge movement which had not quite met its death. Their first album had shown technical and songwriting a maturity far and above their age, but it was an album stuck in the time it was released. With their follow up, they had the chance to carve their own sound and fully establish themselves, and not be passed off as another group of Pearl Jam wannabes.
managed to show a certain amount of progression. They grew as musicians and they were as tight a band at this time as any other on the planet as their live performances proved. The huge riffs on 'Slave', 'No Association' and 'The Closing' helped to push their sound into heavier and more metallic territories than they had previously been seen in, and certainly further ahead of the overly clean and harmless post-grunge bands, so many of whom were ascending to the top of the charts at the time. The most impressive change, however, was that the first signs of the orchestral grandeur the band would increasingly use with each future release were also present, amongst the sludge and grit which would quite rapidly disappear on these albums to come. 'Cemetery' and 'Petrol and Chlorine' finely demonstrate this, as does 'Abuse Me' though from a more obviously vulnerable perspective and not abandoning their established grungy sound. But it is the swing of 'The Door' (!) with its thumping, upbeat drive and Eastern twang that is the biggest overhaul in style. There aren't the obvious strings on this track unlike the aforementioned songs, but it manages to be the grandest on the album, and is the biggest sign post towards the band's future.
There are moments throughout the album where it takes the odd tumble. Several of the other gritter numbers, don't manage to have as positive an effect on the album as 'Slave' and 'No Association'. The mediocre 'Roses' fails to set itself apart from most of the 90s grunge and likewise 'Freak', despite being such a successful single, has the dullest riff on the album and is largely unimpressive, which is made worse coming after the riff laden 'Slave'. They borrowed a bit too much from their forefathers with 'Lie To Me' which couldn't want to be on In Utero
any more if it tried. These missteps are fortunately some way from derailing the album as a whole, and are comfortably outdone by the more positive elements, but it's annoying if nothing else as even at this stage in their career they were far better than these tracks let on.
On Freak Show
Silverchair manage to develop their own sound, and we can see the move to the more adventurous style present on their later work being conceived, while still retaining the thick, gritty grunge that has been pushed towards the heavier regions of metal since Frogstomp
. The album is at its best when these styles go as far as possible in these directions, and the tracks which don't do this feel as though they're being left behind. Thankfully, more often than not they explore these new areas to great effect and overcome the more mediocre moments to produce a very solid album.