Freak Show; Ixnay on the Hombre
Everyone’s concerned about the anxieties of Generation X, but what about those of Y? Witness, as I did, a Marilyn Manson concert, at which seemingly normal high schoolers yell along to choruses like ”We hate love! We love hate!” On ”Learn to Hate” from silverchair’s sophomore album, Freak Show, 17-year-old leader Daniel Johns shrieks, ”Take the time to learn to hate!/Come and join the mass debate!” Meanwhile, the Offspring’s Dexter Holland lashes out at ”the jocks and the geeks” on ”Cool to Hate,” from Ixnay on the Hombre — which, like Freak Show, is the follow-up to an unexpectedly huge album. Perhaps someone should pen a Gen-Y movie musical called Everyone Says I Loathe You.
Venom toward anything authoritarian — parents, siblings, homework, bullies, dress codes — is as much a part of the teen experience as dating and toking. Maybe what we’re seeing is pre-millennial tension catching up with the high school set. If so, at least silverchair is the right band at the right time: In singer-guitarist Johns, the Aussie trio boasts an authentic morose teenager, the voice of his degeneration. Freak Show is one dejected screed after another, whether the subject is an abusive father (”Nobody Came”) or suicide (mentioned in several songs). Cranking out tortured rhymes like ”Me and pain are the same/Me and shame take the blame,” Johns also reminds us that writing bad poetry is yet another long-standing teen rite of passage.
The Nirvana-by-numbers knockoffs on the band’s debut album, Frogstomp, were somewhat easy to forgive — these kids were, after all, just kids. Attempting longer, denser dirges and grafting strings and Indian instrumentation onto other tracks, silverchair attempt to sound more adult on Freak Show. They only succeed in sounding more joyless than ever. With its squiggly metal riffs and ludicrously self-immolating lyrics, Freak Show affords the pointless opportunity of hearing what Nirvana would have sounded like had Kurt Cobain worshipped Megadeth rather than the Melvins. The album’s only compelling moments are its airier, gothic-style ballads: On the first single, ”Abuse Me,” they sound like Stone Temple Pilots in quasi-psychedelic mode. Such a change does not, however, constitute progress.
The twenty- and thirtysomething members of the Offspring haven’t been in high school in years, but it’s hard to tell from Ixnay on the Hombre, the adrenaline-fueled successor to 1994’s Smash. Most of its songs are in the voice of, or addressed to, the embattled Everyteen. ”How many times is it gonna take/Til someone around you hears what you say?” goads Holland in the bullet-paced first single, ”All I Want.” Elsewhere, the bellowing front man identifies with such standard teen topics as independence (”The Meaning of Life”) and alienation (”Amazed”). Comfort, of a sort, is offered on ”Way Down the Line,” which assures Gen-Yers ”You’ll f— up, just like your parents did/It all just happens again, way down the line.”
For all the frustration and resignation in their lyrics, the Offspring are anything but defeated. Much like fellow Southern California skatepunks Rancid, they make a brawny, unabashedly hooky racket — tight, razor-sharp body-surfing rock that feels pumped with steroids. Ixnay on the Hombre is the culmination of the new punk rock’s transformation into anthemic, up-with-people party music — music for beating up nihilistic skinheads. Even ”Cool to Hate” mocks rather than wallows in teen cynicism. The Offspring’s forays into punk-funk and fashionable ska are less distinctive. But ”Change the World” is the lean, uplifting alterna-metal Metallica wishes it had achieved on Load. silverchair may be real teens, but the Offspring make you feel like one all over again.
Freak Show: C-
Ixnay on the Hombre: B+