“I know I have a tendency to go missing – but I’m back now,” Daniel Johns told fans when announcing his second solo album ‘FutureNever’. The elusive, enigmatic and often unknowable former Silverchair frontman has spent much of the past year trying to show us the real him. His hit podcast, Who Is Daniel Johns?, went in deep on unraveling the mythology around his years as a teen grunge sensation wrestling with fame, public mental health battles, musical ambitions outrunning a blinkered world’s expectations, marriage to Natalie Imbruglia, Silverchair’s demise, and his troubled, tabloid-dodging years since.
Now, no longer running from his history, he’s looking to celebrate his chameleonic legacy. As his letter to fans continued: “‘FutureNever’ is a place where your past, present and future collide – in the ‘FutureNever’ the quantum of your past experiences become your superpower.”
Opener ‘Reclaim Your Heart’ is for the fans of the blockbuster whimsy found on ‘Diorama’. This mode, complete with a sick and wailing guitar solo, makes an almighty but welcome return. In that ‘Diorama’ flight of fancy, we also have the euphoric ballad ‘When We Take Over’ and ‘Emergency Calls Only’. The latter is a collaboration with Van Dyke Parks, who added the celestial orchestration to ‘Diorama’ and the more soaring parts of Silverchair’s last album ‘Young Modern’. The release of ‘FutureNever’ was delayed to make room for this song, and it makes for a true album highlight as an operatic baroque gem that follows in the lineage of ‘Across The Night’, ‘Tuna In The Brine’ and ‘All Across The World’ – but delivered with a chrome finish and proggy cyborg Beatles flourishes.
In that spirit of moving Johns’ past along, the record even comes with a couple of sequels. ‘FreakNever’ rips the teenage angst from Silverchair’s 1997 grunge smash ‘Freak’, shifts the tense, and translates the song’s societal dread into a sombre, West End horror epilogue of Johns’ trauma from the time. As guest vocalist Purplegirl chillingly narrates: “No more maybes, the world stole a baby, took his soul on tour, and made a deal with the devil – he didn’t want to be different, but fame’s a disease.”
Another follow-up comes in ‘Those Thieving Birds (Part 3)’ picking up the mantle from its two swooping ‘Young Modern’ predecessors. It furthers the series in a more controlled but no less cinematic manner, Johns dramatically declaring: “No more big lies, no more goodbyes… As long as you and I are together”.
Johns shows off his range on the rest of ‘FutureNever’. ‘Mansions’ and ‘Where Do We Go’ take the street-smart, slick pop-meets-R&B of his solo debut ‘Talk’ but lift it with some genre-defying classicism. ‘Cocaine Killer’ featuring Peking Duk sees Johns successfully dabble in FKA Twigs-esque arty trip-hop, there’s an industrial rock edge to ‘Stand ‘Em Up’ featuring What So Not, and ‘I Feel Electric’ carries some of that Prince-meets-garage-rock danceability from ‘Young Modern’ – albeit a little freer. Freedom is certainly the vibe: Hell, the blissed-out psych trip of ‘Someone Call An Ambulance’ wouldn’t sound out of place in a Wayne Coyne fever dream.
While there’s a lot of Daniel Johns at his best here, this isn’t ‘The Best Of Daniel Johns’. There’s rock bravado throughout, but you won’t get a whiff of ‘Frogstomp’. Styles and eras clash, but ‘Neon Ballroom’ it ain’t. There is, however, a vulnerability, curiosity and adventure that makes ‘FutureNever’ unmistakably Johns. That kid who once asked you to wait for tomorrow is living in it today.
- Release date: April 22
- Record label: BMG Music Australia