Classical music prodigies are generally admired for their ability to master and replicate the works of great men, not create their own. Originality isn’t the issue, precocious virtuosity and artistry are. In rock’n’roll, which maintains a pretense of looking forward and only intermittently places emphasis on instrumental skill, being an adolescent wizard is good for only a few novelty points unless you turn out to be Stevie Wonder, Prince or the King of Pop. Kid bands (Old Skull, Stinky Puffs, Noise Addict) are taken as exactly that, and judged accordingly, expected to be cute or bratty and nothing more. Which is why silverchair is such a logic-defying shocker. There’s nothing audible on the competently derivative frogstomp that gives away the tender ages of this Australian threesome; their sure proficiency at dramatic Seattle-style rock thunder becomes frightening only with the knowledge that they were barely fifteen when they wrote and recorded the debut album.
Guitarist Daniel Johns’ admitted vocal mimicry of Eddie Vedder isn’t an exact match on frogstomp, but still mighty impressive for a kid who’s still in high school. The songs he co-writes with drummer Ben Gillies have more of a ’70s Bad Company mock-Western feel beneath the bludgeoning power but the same kind of anguished lyrics (albeit sketchier and stupider) as Pearl Jam: “Suicidal Dream,” “Pure Massacre” and the execution-inspired “Israel’s Son” are especially disturbing under the chronological circumstances. Silverchair’s youth has certainly been an asset in the band’s rise (earning it such backbiting nicknames as Kinder-garden, Silver Highchair and Alice in Chairs), but frogstomp comes without any caveats, asking — and requiring — no indulgence for its creators’ tender years. By the way, that gulp you hear is the sound of twentysomething strivers rethinking their career choices.