In the lead-up to writing Silverchair’s fourth album, Diorama, frontman Daniel Johns stopped taking the antidepressant medication he’d been on for the previous two and a half years. Without it, he started experiencing the deep lows and intense highs the medication had leveled out, and it’s that spectrum of emotions that informs Diorama, with Johns determined to capture it all.
While 1999 predecessor Neon Ballroom had flirted with musical progression, Diorama saw Johns shaking off the shackles of expectation, creating an album that once and for all severed ties with the band’s grunge past. Having drawn on the grim reality of his mental health on Neon Ballroom, here he became fixated on fantasy and escapism, nowhere more so than on opener “Across the Night.” A song about being in love with falling asleep because you go to a new world every time you dream, musically it mirrors that sense of wonder via lavish orchestration, all arranged by former Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Never before had Silverchair sounded so alive, so spirited, and so joyful.
“Tuna in the Brine” similarly feels plucked from a musical rather than a rock album. Over strings, brass, and woodwind swirling dramatically around Johns, he sings about hiding his feelings from the outside world: “The light in my darkest hour is fear/Denies me of anything good.” Still, the musical grandeur carries an air of optimism. Even the most relatively straightforward songs—the anthemic power ballad “Without You,” the fragile “World Upon Your Shoulders,” and the dreamlike “My Favourite Thing”—carry a sense of fantasy.
Though they would’ve been a focal point of earlier albums, the Black Sabbath-indebted “One Way Mule” and the downtuned “The Lever” almost feel out of place here. This is, after all, a record which finds Johns singing a buoyant “do do do do do do” refrain in “Luv Your Life,” and which ends with “After All These Years,” a piano ballad allegedly written in 15 minutes, in which he sings, “After all these years/Forget about all the troubled times.” Sadly, the troubled times would soon return, when Johns was diagnosed with reactive arthritis not long after completing the album, confining him to his home, leaving him unable to tour on the album’s release. Regardless, Diorama stands as a testament to an artist stepping out of the darkness and into the light, no matter how fleeting it would prove to be.