Daniel Johns’ one-man show sees him drop his token guitar for a synthesizer. What a difference 20 years can make.
An obvious statement, and it may sound ridiculous to think that any one person could remain stagnant and unchanged within that timeframe, but for Daniel Johns, carving out a new creative path has proven a little difficult. Since coming out of an 8-year hibernation earlier this year to release his Aerial Love EP, Johns has been bombarded with questions regarding the likelihood of a Silverchair reunion, and a return to his grunge roots, particularly as Frogstomp celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. With the release of the EP’s title track, a smooth and sultry love ballad, Johns has distanced himself so far from his hard rock days that he’s almost at a point of no return.
However, this transformation was a long time coming. From the time of the band’s inception, Silverchair’s signature sound has evolved from the growling vocals and heavy guitars of Frogstomp and Freakshow, to the symphonic and classic rock nuances of Neon Ballroom and Diorama, to the soft, melodious pop of Young Modern. Silverchair’s discography provides us with a timeline of progression in which Johns, Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou mature before our eyes, and widen their musical palette of influences to produce a more fleshed-out sound. It’s no surprise that Johns has come out of the band’s “indefinite hiatus” a new artist, one that’s not afraid to explore personally unchartered territories, and in the process potentially disappoint a loyal and expectant fan base. The end result is Talk, a solid debut solo effort that unveils a new Johns.
‘Aerial Love’ opens the album, gently setting the scene with a slow, billowing beat and mellow electronic keys. A great selection for the first track, introducing listeners to the R&B sound that heavily dominates throughout the album. As the album picks up the pace, each track adds a new layer. The underlying R&B sound starts to incorporate more dance undertones on tracks ‘We Are Golden’ and ‘By Your Side’, thanks to The Presets’ Julian Hamilton, while the hip-hop tinged ‘Faithless’ and ‘Too Many’ adds softer and funkier textures. These all eventually culminate on ‘Going On 16’, where all the R&B, hip-hop and electronica elements come together to create an up-tempo, youthful track.
The weakest track on the album is ‘New York’, a Broadway-esque tune that doesn’t quite seem to fit within the genre progression of Talk and perhaps belongs on something more sonic like Young Modern. The album finishes on an eerie note with ‘Good Luck’, which features distorted, clashing sounds and haunting vocals. Johns’ vocals throughout the album are more fluid as he explores the extent of his voice. His warm harmonies, and subtle approach more so reflect his introverted persona, especially without the need to vocally overpower thrashing drums and guitars.
The standout of Talk, however, is ‘Preach’. This track can be best summed up as gospel electronica – a powerful chorus with sweeping vocals, and the production stylings of Damn Moroda, who manage to build great momentum with beautiful, synthetic layers. It’s on ‘Preach’ that we start to get a sense of what this album is all about, singing: “Now I dance to my own beat, I could only try / ‘Cause I fall at my own feet, I’m weeping every time / I could run down the high street, but that would be a lie / Now I preach to the lonely.”
There is one key thing that has carried over from Johns’ past musical life, and that’s his emotionally raw lyricism. From beginning to end, there is a sense of self-analytical isolation throughout Talk that is both empowering and melancholic. At their core, his songs have always been overflowing with a mixture of passion and candor. With this at the foundation of his album, he’s been able to maintain a sense of lyrical stability that we’ve seen through most of his genre-hopping career.
This album is somewhat a coming of age, where we listen to Johns solidify an identity that was for so long embedded in a band that was created at 14 years old. This, most definitely, is a good thing.
Talk is out now through EMI.