In 2002, you’d be hard pressed to ignore the Vines. Craig Nicholls and company had an inordinate amount of media exposure emanating from the UK outwards, perhaps peaking with the NME’s “anatomy of a rock god” feature. Making the most of his `crazy’ persona and drawing heavily on the sonic-visual Cobain parallels (is it me or does Nicholls look far more like the lost Culkin brother, surely giving him higher leftfield cred?), the press seemed to have found a generational anti-hero. Highly Evolved was a propulsive indie-that-wasn’t-indie seller, mixing sixties scouse beat and eighties Seattle energy beneath songwriting that featured a magical, perceptive simplicity. They made it onto MTV awards shows alongside the Hives. For a while reinvention of the wheel could be claimed as revolutionary with a straight face.
Since then, a second, more psychedelic album, Winning Days, failed to surpass the debut’s reception. On stage fracas and rumors of instability harmed the Sydney group. Bassist and founder member Patrick Matthews left after a curtailed radio showcase. Nicholls derided the listeners of Triple M (kind of an alternative station for aspiring young professionals, I hope to be happy enough to catch them over the web soon) as “Sheep.” Eventually the front-man was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I won’t insult the intelligence of the band and anyone reading this by attempting to relate their latest to this, other than to add that it’s his business, and I really can’t hear much trauma in the music.
There’s an emptiness, or openness to large parts of Vision Valley, which has already been criticized elsewhere. Occasionally it’s lightweight to the point of non-substantiation. Initial single “Gross Out” is an accentuated rip through a riff bearing some similarity to the bands biggest hit, “Get Free,” and little more. Unfortunately, the brevity and bluster doesn’t allow for betrayal of anything but noised neutrality. It’s a shame that this ninety second scream was chosen to represent on MTV amidst a “troubled” reputation. Most of the album’s no-brainers sound like a few mates having a lot of fun screaming and playing guitars, with a few top tunes to boot. “Candy Daze” lies somewhere between Graham Coxon and Jellyfish. “Don’t Listen to the Radio” takes Blur’s “Charmless Man” on Trompe Le Monde‘s dumbest road to Roswell. “Atmos” could moonlight as one of the stronger occupants on an aging Nuggets box-set.
Aside from a few jump around moments, there are two excellent, truly poignant songs on the record. “Going Gone” is John Lennon’s 1990 single for an alternate baroque netherworld. It’s on a big-screen at the mall right now, celebrating a girl with the future “written on her bedroom wall.” “Take Me Back” cribs from On the Beach and Revolver admirably. The end product is a traveling salvation plea…all enthusiasm over the bleakness.
If you liked Highly Evolved, you’ll probably like this. In fairness to most of the band’s prior acolytes, they’ve been largely supportive. This group deserves credit for helping themselves by leaving no room for any pity or kid gloves. At the very least, the Vines can concentrate on making another good album off the back of this one. I’ll plan on buying their next record.
The Beatles- Revolver
Blur- The Great Escape
The Pixies- Trompe Le Monde