Alright, in the interest of full disclosure, I would be remiss if I did not first admit the fact that I am a big fan of the Vines.
Upon the release of the band’s debut album Highly Evolved in 2002, I immediately found much to appreciate in the members’ unique mixing of punk rock riffage and harmonious psychedelic exploration. Even their overhyped billing as a group that sounds like a “cross between the Beatles and Nirvana” couldn’t have fit more squarely in line with my own musical taste at the time (or since).
In 2004, when their follow-up record Winning Days hit the shops I became more on board with the band’s sound than ever before. Though many music critics panned the release, I found the disc to be a step in the right direction with a mostly acoustic side proving the Vines could make good on their ‘60s-inspired influences.
Additionally, when talk invariably began to turn to the group’s other contemporaries in the category of so-called “saviors of rock ‘n’ roll” such as the Strokes or the White Stripes, I stuck with the boys from Australia, even as many in the music industry and record-buying public let them begin their slow slide towards fringe status.
Unfortunately, it is for these very same reasons and more that the writing of the rest of this post is so difficult. You see, I finally think the band has lost its way.
On the new album and fifth overall release Future Primitive, the Vines seem stuck on the handful of years that immediately followed the start of the new millennium.
Once hailed as the next Kurt Cobain, lead singer and songwriter Craig Nicholls first came to fame as much as a result of his outrageous antics (later determined to be the result of coping with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome) as his hook-filled rave-ups and gorgeous acoustic laments. In fact, the potential he showed on his early material led many to label him a sort of eccentric genius, that once fully capable of tapping the infinite resources in his mind, would unleash upon the world a masterpiece on par with anything in the Lennon-McCartney canon, or at the very least a strong contender for Brian Wilson’s wistful throne.
Sadly, the wunderkind appears content to just keep making the same record over and over again.
Snarling vocals howled over a two minute blast of garage fuzz? Check. Hazy strum-filled sing-alongs filled with plenty of “oohs,” “woahs,” and “aahs”? Check again. What about the requisite thrasher complete with obnoxious feedback and unintelligible screams? Look no further than the repetitive “Black Dragon.”
Watch the official video for the title track to the Vines’ album “Future Primitive” here:
The revelation that such a formula even existed first became apparent on Nicholl’s first record after his diagnosis of mental illness, 2006’s Vision Valley. Yet, at the time the clear imitation of past success wasn’t seen as a harbinger of mediocrity. Instead, remaining fans were just happy the guy was still making music and doing it his way at that.
Now however, things have become redundant.
While the promise of early tracks like “Get Free” and “Outtathaway!” reveled in their own unhinged frenzy and power, new songs like “Gimme Love” and “S.T.W” (itself a less-vulgar reinvention of Winning Days’ number “F.T.W.”) harken back to a well that might be starting to run dry.
The guitars still rock. The drums still roll. But the whole weight of the proceedings feels less sincere than it should. Even the addition of electronic flourishes to numbers like Future Primitive’s title track and what starts as the very Beatle-esque “All That You Do” seem like stretches, and ultimately unnecessary ones at that.
Tellingly, many songs on the record could be from any other Vines’ release. And though that may speak to more of a sign of consistent artistic vision than anything else, the reason behind such similar sounds could also be attributed to the fact that these songs aren’t even that “new” anyway.
The bulk of Future Primitive was actually written and recorded starting in 2009-2010, and then whiled away in obscurity as the band sought a label willing to release the lot.
Now finally available as an import via Sony Music’s Australian imprint, the album is also acting as a reminder to the world of the band’s continued existence and a prelude to an unnamed sixth record which is to be released either in late 2011 or early 2012.
Will such an event be a true return to form for a band that has seen more than its share of hard times? Or better still, might another new record finally become the breakthrough hardcore fans have waited patiently for all these years?
The current writing on the wall says both dreams are unlikely. And if even more evidence is needed of the Vines’ reluctance to part with the earlier parts of the decade, one need only to look to the inclusion of a bonus cut on Japanese editions of Future Primitive.
The extra song is a fun-enough cover of the Arctic Monkeys’ “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” However with the original number only coming out in 2006, its addition to the track listing still puts the Vines a full five years behind the curve.
Here’s hoping, from one remaining holdout to another, that the band can catch up to the modern times before they aren’t enough fans (this writer included) left around to care.
For more information on the Vines or to see future tour dates please visit http://www.thevines.com.
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