Who Can It Be Now?

Will Silverchair's platinum success yield a golden opportunity for a slew of Aussie imports?

Australia's teeny grunge sensation Silverchair is the biggest (and youngest) band to conquer down under and beyond since the Easybeats had Friday on their minds way back in 1967. Silverchair's debut, Frogstomp, entered the Australian charts at No.1--a first in Aussie rock. And, like this country's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the kids love 'em, but anybody who strains to remember puberty is left scratching his head and going, "Wha?"

In three months, Silverchair also has garnered tremendous stateside support from U.S. young ones clamoring for their very own Nirvana Lite. Evidently, when 16-year-old singer Daniel Johns yowls, "There's the bathroom and there is the sink/The water in the tap is very hard to drink," he hits a direct feed to the souls and wallets of white early teens and teens-to-be everywhere.

I'm not ashamed to admit it: I fear the 'chair. I fear it with all my heart and soul, because this is a band that sucks kangaroo doo, and there is nothing you or I or anybody else can do to stop it. A lot of you think the rock press could fell these little twerps with just a couple of meanspirited reviews. Untrue! Any harsh criticism hurled at Silverchair at this stage will only return to sender like a brand-new boomerang. Sure, the trio's lyrics are uniformly awful, but what do you say--"I know tenth-graders who can write better words than that"? It's futile, I tell you. The lads don't even do interviews (too much homework, I'll bet). Our only hope is that the parents of Silverchair's members ground them for life.

I got the early poop on Silverchair several months ago from a friend who periodically visits his native Melbourne, and I was pleased to find that, this time around, he'd returned with a cache of new Australian pop releases that have yet to make it to these shores. Each one set him back $29.99 Australian (roughly $23 U.S.), so consider this roundup the cheapest way to sample some pricey Aussie imports.

Ah, but therein lies the silver lining to Silverchair: If the band turns out to be just another flash in the pan (not bloody likely), then we're rid of it. If not, American labels are sure to jump on the Oz wagon, and you'll soon see some of these titles at a CD emporium near you! G'day, mate!

Silverchair is scheduled to perform on Sunday, December 17, at Party Gardens, with Smile. Showtime is 3 p.m.

You Am I
Hi Fi Way
(Ra Records/WEA)

One listen to the 'chair's "My Suicidal Dream" and "Pure Massacre," and it's obvious the tykes got their angst secondhand from Pearl Jam and Black Sabbath recordings. Older and wiser, You Am I knows what true despair is--working shit day jobs. One song's called "Pizza Guy." "Handwasher" has Tim the busboy waxing Westerbergian about how he must "wash my hands in shame 4,000 times a day/For while I service your greed/I'm just dying to be clean." And you may never wanna order a grilled cheese sandwich after this appetizing couplet: "For every sandwich I know/There's a sack o' shit to be dosed." Yum!

Musically, You Am I is like Foo Fighters meet Badfinger. And of all the imports listed here, Hi Fi Way has the most irresistible single: a possible "girls wanna be with the girls" song called "She Digs Her." You'll dig it, even though You Am I commits the unspeakable Tin Pan Alley sin of going into an epic instrumental bridge without ever returning to the main melody or the insanely memorable chorus. The result: You wind up playing the darned thing over and over. There's an exciting, Who-style rave-up during "The Applecross Wing Commander," complete with an Entwistlesque bass solo and dive-bomber guitar maneuvers. Everything from listing the 14 song titles on the front cover to having song bridges with hooky left turns suggests that this is a band with a healthy understanding of how to make a great pop album.

This Is Serious Mum
Machiavelli and the Four Seasons
(Genre B. Goode)

If only there were enough space here to call attention to every great gag on this satirical masterpiece by a band of techno/house jokers called This Is Serious Mum. The artwork alone is worth paying whatever exorbitant import price a stateside record dealer might charge. There's no mention of This Is Serious Mum anywhere on the outer packaging; instead, it's presented as an ersatz 1963 album by one Machiavelli and the Four Seasons. Actually, the gold-lamed six-man band pictured on the front is the Hollywood Argyles, who had a hit in 1960 with "Alley Oop." The decoy back cover lists ten songs, including "I Love You Baby," "It's You I Love Baby," "Love; Baby-You" "Baby Baby Baby," "Love, Love, Love," "Baby Love" and, of course, "I.L.Y.B."

Inside, the song titles are another story: the inflammatory but funny "All Homeboys Are Dickheads," "Lose Your Delusion II," "Play Mistrial for Me" and the showstopping "(He'll Never Be An) Old Man River." That tune's infectious chorus: "I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix." This Is Serious Mum also partook of the sandwich Mama Cass choked on, drank "the slab that killed Bon Scott," "injected some of Hendrix's junk," and even "booked a seat on Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane"!

Each song is a brilliant social essay on pop culture--it's as if Malcolm McLaren got hold of Depeche Mode and forced it to be riotously funny. Try imagining a politically correct U.S. band like R.E.M. singing, "If you want to save the world--don't recycle." The tune "Garbage" chastises Generation Xers for recycling "their parents' adolescent angst":

Paul McCartney once said that
the Sex Pistols
Were another band doin' Chuck Berry
At the time I thought 'You boring
old wanker'
But now I think it's downright scary.

It's to our misfortune that America is probably too uptight to enjoy TISM's send-up of good, old-fashioned Australian racism, as in "Aussiemandius" ("Don't call me nigger, whitey/Don't call me wing-nut, gippo"). Remember, there are still some people in this country who think Randy Newman cruises around L.A. in a convertible picking off vertically challenged people with a sawed-off shotgun.

Whatever future this recording has, you can be sure that if the members of TISM ever do set foot on American soil, the surviving Hollywood Argyles will sue the hell out of them.

Mental As Anything
Liar Liar Pants on Fire
(Ariola/BMG)

This band was once described by Trouser Press as "an Australian Rockpile." Mental As Anything certainly rocks as hard as Rockpile at its best, but the quintet sounds a lot more experimental and a lot less reverential when using older songs as a springboard for newer ideas. Witness "Surfer Joe Revisited," where the hero of the Surfaris' hit trades in his woody for a laptop so he "can get to Surf City on the Internet." "Marianne" is a pretty, Richard Thompsonesque ballad about Marianne Faithfull written from a fan's view ("You have been through the mill but you're still beautiful"), and it works without getting mushy àla "Candle in the Wind" (Faithfull is still alive, after all). There's even a great revamp of Wreckless Eric's lovable Stiff hit "Whole Wide World," which last saw action on the Monkees' reunion album.

MAA has released fine recordings since the late Seventies, yet still manages to muster a younger band's fire (i.e., it, too, can wipe the floor with Silverchair). This latest release is supposed to wash up on these shores soon, but because none of the band's previous recordings has made a huge splash, it most likely will sneak out unnoticed. It'll be your loss if you don't snap it up. There ain't a bum track here, mate.

Chocolate Starfish
Chocolate Starfish
(Beggars Banquet)

Okay, now to the not-so-hot stuff. Chocolate Starfish isn't awful; it just sounds like INXS trying to be Bush. On second thought, maybe it is awful! There's a humorless remake of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" (possibly inspired by INXS camera hog Michael Hutchence) and the inevitable hidden track, which consists of an--arrrgggh--"unplugged" studio recording of some indistinguishable tune. As This Is Serious Mum points out in its sleeve notes, "You can't polish a turd." And you can't make a Chocolate Starfish shine.

Tina Arena
Don't Ask
(Sony)

Ladies and gentlemen--drumroll, please--Miss Tina Arena! With a name like that, this artist should be Tejano's newest singing sensation. But, nope, she's just Australia's answer to Mariah Carey--and, like Alanis Morissette, she's a former TV teen star turned woman spurned. She pouts sometimes. She smiles sometimes. She sings about heartache sometimes (actually, she does it quite a lot). Her vocals call to mind a more stabilized, less soulful Lisa Stansfield. So do we need her in America? Not really. Will we get her shoved down our throats anyway? Not unless Sony pres Tommy Mottola becomes a bigamist!

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