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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Silverchair: "Neon Ballroom"

So I've liked Neon Ballroom since the first time I heard it. It wasn't one of those albums that took 3-5 listens before you really began to appreciate it. It was instantly gratifying for me. As most music from the 1996-2000 period causes me to reminisce about high school, I have noticed that this album doesn't differ. This one is even more special to me for a specific reason, which I'll expound upon later and you'll likely find lame. Any who, I find that Neon Ballroom is very much Alternative, very much brilliant, and very much still one of my favorite compositions.

First song, "Emotion Sickness" is a great way to kick things off. Their use of orchestrated music throughout the duration of this song is a super creative way to put a new spin on this genre, though they're not the first to have done that. What makes Silverchair and "Emotion Sickness" so great is that you don't lose any of the rock feel. The orchestration only works for the better, to enhance, yet contrast the ingenious vocals and rough music. The smooth transition into the next track, "Anthem for the Year 2000" is effortless and before you knew it, you're rockin' out to a completely different sound. I love this song because (and get ready for the lameness) I graduated from high school this year, but before I did, I nominated this song to be our class song. Alas, we had some crappy Dave Matthews Band song that like 2 people on student council voted for and nobody remembers... but I digress. Not only are the music and vocals on this song really rugged, but the lyrics are just ironic because the perceptions of youth formed by older generations, and what our generation (and Silverchair) believed to be factual, are completely different. They bring this out heavily in lyrics dealing with the world having small minds to politicians knowing everything. I could rant for a while about this song, but will opt instead to tell you that it's a memorable song, and with its heavy sound and thought provoking lyrics, you shouldn't be disappointed.

"Ana's Song (Open Fire)" is the reason I bought Neon Ballroom. Upon hearing this song, I just thought it was pretty, but later, to find out that the lyrics were so heartfelt and emotional, I just thought it was brilliant. It hauntingly begins with Daniel Johns' vocals and acoustic guitar and later picks up in volume and percussion. It's a slow paced rock anthem that deals with the eating disorder, anorexia; a battle that Johns' had reportedly dealt with. It's worth every bit of the 3:41 time that it presents itself. The fourth track, "Spawn Again" has absolutely no singing, but only yelling. The music is typical of what you'd expect from Silverchair, but what's unexpected is the transition from beauty to the beast (the previous song to now). It's very rugged and political as opposed to soft and personal. It appears to deal with (and I may be being too literal with lyrics) animal rights. Several times throughout the track, animals are mentioned a long with lyrics like, "... why can't the livestock be free when trading soldiers for steak" and "these are the facts, so eat what you murder". You can read them an determine for yourself their lyrical nature, but musically, "Spawn Again" is a good song.

"Miss You Love" is another song that is both pretty and percussive. It begins very softly with vocals and piano, but later picks up to be a bit harsher. These lyrics will have you singing a long pretty quickly. I feel like the lyrics are pretty cut and dry about a teenage breakup, which almost everyone can identify with; a trait that makes this song all the more personal. It's great on so many levels: the beauty, the realness, the rock... it's simply one of the best songs on the album. "Dearest Helpless" is once again, performed in true Silverchair style. The music is almost Nirvana-ish, but the vocals say otherwise. While not a bad song, it never gets too exciting for me. It's pretty typical, never straying from the path of a safe choice. In fact, not only do I not find the music exciting, but the vocals leave a little bit to be desired. Again, not bad, just not their best in my opinion. I'd expect just a little more.
The next track, "Do You Feel the Same" is a great song. It's not only musically interesting, but it reminds me of music you'd hear on a Bush CD, with a few variances. This song makes several unique chord, harmony, and rhythmical choices. You figure that out in about the first 30 seconds of the song. The lyrics are simple and pleasantly performed. Also, there are a few chords in this song which sound dissonant (a musical technique that I'm a huge fan of). I love this song so much and feel it's one of the reasons why I love Neon Ballroom like I do.

I feel like Silverchair has saved their softest songs for this album, for "Black Tangled Heart" is just as slow, soft, and sentiment filled as the rest of their more heart felt tracks. One of the things I love about this song is their use of the orchestra again. I feel like orchestration only enhances rock (if you don't believe me, check out S&M by Metallica). This song also has a few little dissonant spaces gracing us, and again, a huge fan of it. "Black Tangled Heart" will most likely not make you want to sing along. It's more of a "sit back and listen" type of song. A good one though. "The Kiss Will Kill You" is another song which begins much softer and prettier than songs typically produced by Silverchair. Johns really gets a chance to show off his vocal ability in this song and for the first time, you see that he's capable of more than just the rough, raspy sound he's so commonly associated with. The guitars have a tremendous feature throughout the song. I appreciate that, since a lot of the music has really been piano and orchestrated. It's nice just to have a song which is truly guitar driven.

"Satin Sheets" is much harder than the previous few songs, but I almost feel cheated with this one. It's as if vocal abilities have just gone out with window, along with all creativity. Nothing seems to flow well in this song. It just sounds really abrasive to my ears. I don't feel like I'm listening to the CD that, up until this point, I've loved. I'd venture so far as to say, I hate this song, but be advised that Neon Ballroom is still a truly awesome masterpiece, though it would have been nearly perfect without this one. I know this will shock you and all, but "Paint Pastel Princess" is yet again slower and softer, and once again, orchestrated. The good thing here is that I'm not yet bored by these sounds, because each song is tremendously different, with mild similarities (instrument choices and pace of songs). I won't say that this song is my favorite, but it's hard to say anything bad about it. No, the lyrics are not anything to write home about, but other than that, the musicality of this song is great. "Steam Will Rise" is the last track on the album and it's definitely a good note to end on. It is following the majority speed with this album, but it's a cleverly written song. Percussion is what kicks off this song and keeps you really intrigued to see where it's heading. While the lyrics are dark, they are brilliantly written and flow so well with the melody and rhythm. An example is in the last verse, "Refrain, Confess, Contain, Repress, pretend I'm dead. Abuse myself, confuse myself, I won't be led." I'm normally not all for rimes, but it's done pretty tastefully here, as if not completely intentional (though you know it had to be). It all ends with a bunch of synthesized music... another wonderful thing that hasn't happened yet. As I said, a great way to end things!

If you've never had the pleasure of listening to Neon Ballroom, I strongly suggest that you give it a listen. It's a great album with great talent and I couldn't imagine a better choice to kick off Alternative Rock month. Whether you're a Silverchair fan or not, if you're a fan of Alternative Rock, or just flat out great music, I feel like you'll enjoy it. It may not be your favorite, but at least you'll have the exposure and the experience... both well worth it!

Key Tracks:
1. "Anthem for the Year 2000"
2. "Ana's Song (Open Fire)"
3. "Miss You Love"
4. "Do You Feel the Same"
5. "Steam Will Rise"
9 out of 10 stars


Megan P.I. said...

This is really silly, but I've been bitter at Silverchair since they released the album Freak Show. When I was 12 or 13 my imaginary band was going to have a debut album of the same name.

11 years later, it might be time to end this grudge and give Neon Ballroom a listen.

Erin said...

I really like it a lot. In fact, after I wrote this review, I listened to the album to and from work for the next two days. It didn't get old. I only changed it because it was all getting stuck in my head and I couldn't focus.