FLASHBACK FRIDAY: 20 years of Silverchair’s ‘Frogstomp’

It’s hard to explain the impact that Silverchair‘s debut album Frogstomp had on my life.

It’s equally hard to explain to most people that a garage grunge album penned by a trio of young teenagers from Newcastle, Australia, has had more impact on my life than almost any other album in existence. But bear with me as I try.

This album quite literally changed my life. I would’ve been 12, perhaps 13, when I first received it. As a kid, I’d visit my dad’s office on occasion, and this woman who worked there one day handed me a stack of CDs that she thought I’d like.  Among them were The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Nirvana and of course, Frogstomp. 

I chose to play Frogstomp first, and I have the most vivid memory of the whole event. Sitting at the edge of my single bed in my parent’s house, I popped the CD into my little stereo, and waited.

Then this happened:

That riff. That bass riff, followed closely by the distorted crunch of that guitar. That did something to my brain and I’ve never been the same way since.

I’d never been exposed to that kind of music before.

Every song on the album spoke to me in one way or another. From the melodic angst of Tomorrow, to the absurdly disturbing Pure Massacre, to the aggressively sad Leave Me Out  and the brooding Suicidal Dream. Surely enough, it wasn’t long before I was wearing all black, learning the guitar and wholeheartedly embraced the ‘weird goth kid’ stereotype at my preppy private school.

Frogstomp isn’t a musically brilliant album in the way you might consider a Pink Floyd album genius. The riffs are simple and heavy, the lyrics bordered on ridiculous (Tomorrow still baffles me,) chords were basic enough that I learnt to play the entire album within a few months. But they were raw and powerful, they bled with teen angst and rebellion. Anger, frustration and all kinds of confused emotions seeped from the pores of each and every track – exactly what a newly teenage Lauren had been waiting for.

It’s corny, but at the time – and remember this was before social media, before I graduated from an alarmingly close-minded, religious private high school, before ‘real life’ happened – this album was my first exposure to something alternative. I suddenly discovered that being a confused, socially awkward weirdo was okay, because I wasn’t alone. And this thing called rock music was there as my personal, sonic punching bag.

My parents hated it.

I think that opening riff of Israel’s Son is still my favourite on the album. Closely followed by the similarly sadistic Undecided, that distortion blasted into my ears. “They wonder why you need someone, you get no freedom at all / they want you to drop down and conform / they make your self esteem fall,” Johns growls on the latter. It’s childish and almost laughable now, but at the time – oh boy.

The emotional Shade, with it’s non-distorted riffs and deep bass line, sang of communication. “If you’re hurt, why don’t you tell someone? Don’t feel bad, you’re not the only one. Don’t go hiding in the shade…” To this day, I wonder if the band knew how important lyrics like that were to people like me. Conversely, Suicidal Dream was dark and demented – luckily far enough away from my own life experiences that it was no more than just lyrics. “I fantasise about my death, I kill myself from holding my breath. My suicidal dream, voices telling me what to do, my suicidal dream, I’m sure you will get yours too.” It’s also an interesting look at musical censorship, really. I don’t think many acts would get away with screeching “SUICIDAL! SUICIDAL!” over and over again in today’s environment.

Posters of a once blonde, scraggly-haired Daniel Johns and co adorned my walls. I’d started reading up on the band and their influences, which in turn led me to really get into the likes of Black Sabbath, Nirvana, Mudhoney and so on. it wasn’t long before this album solely put me on the trajectory to the person I am today. Grunge and heavy alternative rock will forever be among my most beloved genres, and Silverchair will forever be one of my favourite bands. (Their first three albums, at least.)

Luckily by the time I heard Frogstomp, Silverchair’s next two albums – Freak Show and Neon Ballroom were already out. While they didn’t have quite the same impact on me as their debut did, they were just as relatable and as such, powerfully meaningful. It was really interesting to see how they had progressed musically, and, in turn, my own musical tastes started expanding. From the heavy metal Freak to the expansive, orchestral Emotion Sickness, the band were also releasing songs that dealt with more intense, more specific and far darker subject matters. It was as educational as it was enjoyable – Anthem For The Year 2000 was a pseudo-political warcry, Abuse Me took a tongue-in-cheek look at bullying, and Ana’s Song was a soft-spoken, heartbreaking track about eating disorders. The media later revealed that Johns himself had been dealing with anorexia for some time, only cementing the raw, honest emotions that traipsed throughout their entire back catalogue.

It’s amazing to think that this album is now in its 20th year, and yet I only love it more each time I listen to it. Not only was it the album that got me into music, and I wouldn’t be here writing this today if not for it, but it spoke to me – and probably thousands of other young adults – in a way that most other albums couldn’t. Particularly because it was Australian, because it was understandable, simple, so full of angst, not to mention occasionally hilarious. Sure, there was no Bohemian Rhapsody on it, no Comfortably Numb-level guitar solos, no Radiohead-style lyrics that sent you into an abyss of cryptic despair, but there was no need for it. It is what it is, and it meant the world to me.

Today, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Frogstomp with a fully remastered edition available, complete with live versions of each track, DVDs and even vinyls for the truly dedicated (like myself.) Stream it on Spotify here, or purchase on iTunes here.