fade into nothing

Neon Ballroom, silverchair’s third effort, is an album of more of the same. Silverchair, like much of the waning alternative racket, sounds at a loss to come up with anything distinctive or moving, not that this will stop their plodding momentum.

The opening, “Emotion Sickness,” pretends at significance but sounds like Radiohead rearranged to suit Michael Bolton. “Anthem for the Year 2000” comes across an unfunny parody of Midnight Oil. There are, to be expected, some obvious remnants from their attempt to become Pearl Jam which work against the few odd snatches of melody that come through. “Muddy” is a common complaint about sound quality in general but the muddiness in silverchair is there from the point of conception, not something to blame on the recording. Neon Ballroom doesn’t function as a collection of songs or as a cohesive statement. The emptiness it provokes doesn’t from lament or angst — it’s just a blank.

There really isn’t much to distinguish Neon Ballroom from the self-important heavy metal of the 1980s. Silverchair is only shades less cartoonish than the hair bands of that era. “Ana’s Song (Open Fire)” could easily be retrofitted to Winger or Skid Row. There’s an occasional bassline reminiscent of Faith No More, but that’s as interesting as they’re capable of, or willing to be. The political themes, such as they are, are unsurprisingly conservative underneath the typical look-we’re-different veneer. They aren’t even distinguishable from their own back catalogue. If you’ve heard their first record, you’ve heard them all, and you haven’t heard anything.

Mansun’s first LP (after having issued a considerable number of singles and EPs) is aurally expansive and has all the elements of a great bedroom album: the orchestral opening and closing, an underlying storyline, each track dissolving seamlessly into another. Attack of the Grey Lantern is cinematic at a time when most new releases are unfunny sitcoms. This in itself makes it listenable, even if one could be forgiven for believing this is a concept album based on Monty Python’s “Dirty Vicar” sketch. Repeated listens reveal more of the plotline, but the album’s two best selections, “Wide Open Space” and “Taxloss,” stand alone.

Paul Draper’s vocals are effective and clear when he doesn’t oversneer (as in “Take It Easy, Chicken”). “She Makes My Nose Bleed” sounds like Duran Duran would if they were really as decadent as they pretended to be. There is crisp, soaring instrumentation throughout, particularly “Taxloss,” “Mansun’s Only Love Song” and “Take It Easy, Chicken.” “Naked Twister” is a neat twist on the phrase and encapsulates Attack of the Grey Lantern’s brooding quality. “Disgusting” is somewhat predictable; “Egg Shaped Fred” recalls Oasis. To their benefit, however, there aren’t too many easy comparisons to be made.

“Dark Mavis” is a suitably grandiose conclusion, and then Attack of the Grey Lantern ends as it begins (an underused device and very moving). Attack of the Grey Lantern is not flawless: the vocals tend strike the same nerve; the premise starts to go astray after “Taxloss.” But you can’t reject Mansun’s attempt out of hand when the alternative is more low-res photocopies like silverchair’s.

©2000 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.