Freak Show

Bonding with Silverchair's '95 debut, Frogstomp, was like finding cool clothes at your local mall: No matter how much you wanted to dismiss it as a fluke, one that somehow stumped your hip radar, it ultimately fulfilled some deep, aesthetic need. So Freak Show should be the teenage trio's embarrassing second album, one that proves that this Australian outfit is truly the Menudo of grunge. But as Freak Show demonstrates, you weren't duped the first time around — Silverchair own the attitude, passion and songwriting skills that most Nirvana Juniors can only feebly approximate.

"If only I could be as cool as you," sings Daniel Johns on "Freak," addressing the you-only-think-you're-from-Seattle issue with a sarcastic one-liner. The band then moves on to pillage other sources, namely the hardcore guitar assault of Helmet and the heavy-duty groove of its parents' Black Sabbath albums.

Johns' bittersweet, crackly voice tops the ample power chordage, sounding eerily close to Kurt Cobain as Johns hits shivery, emotional notes that convey both sweet idealism and disappointment. The 17-year-old singer's lyrics aren't quite as deep as the Nirvana frontman's; instead, Johns is a fount of the kind of poetry etched on the walls in fifth-period English class ("No more maybes/Babies got rabies"). And that's enough — for now, it's Johns' voice that's doing all the communicating.

Throughout, Silverchair spin out songs strong enough to crack the charts, yet the band plays them with the spontaneity of an after-school jam. A number like "The Door" is as catchy as a Monkees tune, but Silverchair actually wrote it themselves. The only problems with Freak Show are that a few tracks sound too much alike and the proggy ballad "Cemetery" is as overblown as the hairstyles in any high school annual (you watch, it'll be their biggest hit).

Silverchair have loads of potential. The band may still be using other peoples' riffs to guide its post-pubescent fury, but it's the enthusiasm that makes this Freak Show more than a novelty.