DANIEL JOHNS/SILVERCHAIR – 1994-2018

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The Greatest View (D Johns) and Across the Night (D Johns) – Silverchair 2002

silver51Silverchair’s fourth studio album was titled Diorama, which means “a world within a world”, and it was the chaotic interior world of Daniel Johns that would impact on the international success of the album. Johns had become addicted to anti-depressant medication, which had distorted his view of the world, his moods and behaviour were swinging in a manic-depressive cycle, his utterances during live performances were often bewildering and antagonistic, “ …despite the many faces of Daniel Johns – Rock God, crowd-baiter, blasphemer, hit-and-miss stand-up comic, evangelist, choir master – he remained at a distance from his bandmates and the crowd.” (The Book of Daniel – Jeff Apter 2018). Video of Daniel’s rant to the crowd in Bologna (Italy ) in 1999.

Johns would ultimately quit the anti-depressant medication Aropax, but he was still struggling to function, the band had just completed their three-album deal with Murmur and were now under pressure to deliver their next album, having just signed to their manager John Watson’s Eleven label and internationally with Atlantic.silver69After hearing the first cut of Diorama, Atlantic could not hear a hit single on the album, Johns had taken off in new musical directions, dropped Nick Launay who had produced their previous two albums and brought in Canadian David Bottrill , above (Tool, Toni Childs, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel), he was writing lush, extended orchestral pieces, power ballads, and experimenting with strings, brass, keyboards, and alternative song structures.silver57Daniel was also composing on a grand piano, not a guitar, for the first time, he discovered the different resonances he could achieve with his voice and how piano-based songwriting techniques had re-kindled his passion for music.silver54He had recruited guru collaborator Van Dyke Parks (Beach Boys), above with Daniel, to the recording sessions too, Johns described their collaboration as “mind-blowing”, and Parks orchestral swells as “tidal waves” and his violins as a “flock of birds”, Parks favorably compared Johns to the Beach Boys Brian Wilson (below with Parks), it sounded like a love-in, Atlantic Records were having conniptions.silver55The old heads at Atlantic knew that Silverchair’s new pocket symphonies were far removed from the blistering grunge of Tomorrow and Freak and would struggle to outsell the heavy guitar rock of Korn and Limp Bizkit who were dominating the charts at the time, they demanded another lead single. The band delivered the song Ramble, a desultory attempt at a by-the-numbers rocker, which ended up as the B-side to Without You, Johns was disgusted with the way Atlantic had treated him, their future albums would be self-funded, so removing some of the suffocating corporate scrutiny that Daniel despised.silver86The band would have to tour intensively, particularly in the US to retain their fan base and promote the album, but this strategy was thrown into disarray, when Johns revealed that he had been diagnosed with reactive arthritis in 2001, a rare blood tissue-related disease which affected a tiny proportion of the population, cricketer Michael Slater was the only other well-known local sufferer. The band struggled through six Big Day Out gigs in early 2002, but all of the US tour dates had to be cancelled.

The first single released from the album was the hook-heavy The Greatest View, a song written by Johns in response to the intense media scrutiny that the band members had been subjected to since their high school days. It was a clever song and easy to like with Queen influences, and the blending of Midnight Oils Jim Moginie’s keyboards and Larry Muhoberac’s (below) orchestral arrangements.silver56It was about as far as the band had ventured from grunge toward pop to that time, and Johns described it as optimistic, positive, and a thank you to his supportive parents, the opening line “You’re the analyst…” also indicated that his psychologist had probably influenced the lyrics too.  It was a solid if unspectacular hit by Silverchair standards, charting #7 locally, #4 in NZ and Canada but there would be no major chart action in the US for this album or its single, in fact only 75,000 copies of Diorama were sold in the US (#91) compared to the stunning sales of their previous albums there – Frogstomp (2 million), Freak Show (620,000), Neon Ballroom (633,000), while Diorama stalled at 250,000 copies, with about 85% of those sales in Australiasilver53The last song lifted off the album was Across the Night, written over nine hours one sleepless night by Johns, the orchestral arrangement by Parks featured twin keyboards by Paul Mac (piano) and Johns (harpsichord) and a string ensemble, it climbed to #13 locally and the album Diorama became the band’s fourth consecutive #1 album in Australia and charted #7 in NZ, and top 20 in Austria and Germany.

Undoubtedly Daniel Johns was becoming a more mature and multi-faceted songwriter, there was also irrefutable evidence that Silverchair had become Daniel’s solo project, he had written all the songs on the last two albums and his former co-writer, drummer Ben Gillies, was merely providing accompaniment.silver62In 2004 Johns would collaborate with Paul Mac, better known for his dance and disco music, who had contributed keyboards on several Silverchair albums, in an experimental side project dubbed the Dissociatives (above). Their more electronica-influenced single Somewhere Down the Barrel, and a self-titled album were released in early 2004, but this new direction by Johns did not really resonate with fans, the Dissociatives disbanded, only to re-appear in a different incarnation when the next Silverchair album was to be recorded in 2007. Reviews of Diorama were generally favorable, noting the breadth and depth of the musical collaboration between Johns and Parks, as well as the emerging whimsicality and pop sensibility of Johns melodies. The snippier criticism came from the British critic, James Jam of NME, who described Diorama as “over-produced Aussie rock, grossly pretentious and overblown” and an album that was intended to “impress their parents” – patronizing, arrogant and condescending as the band had come to  expect from our former colonial masters.silver85Silverchair basically went into hiatus between 2002-2007, Johns had serious health issues to deal with, he would marry his doe-eyed pop princess Natalie Imbruglia in 2003, and re-launch the band in 2007 with Young Modern, their fifth album of original songs.         

 

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