in Retrospecticus

Retrospecticus: The Vines

Bursting out of the early 2000s in an era that has since been dubbed the “Garage Rock Revival”, The Vines quickly established themselves as a high adrenaline band with a knack for grunge, 60s pop ballads, and an occasional foray into psychedelia. Though their popularity has waned in the states since 2004, this gang of rambunctious rock musicians is still a fan favorite in their native Australia. Let’s take a look at the body of work that got them there.

Highly Evolved (2002)
It was in the summer of 2001, that Sydney rock band The Vines (recently signed by Capitol Records) headed into Sound Factory studios to cut their debut album. Fronted by lead singer/guitarist Craig Nicholls, bassist Patrick Matthews and drummer David Oliffe (who left the band after only recording a few tracks) The Vines put together the heavy and melodic collection of alternative rock that makes up Highly Evolved.

Receiving mostly positive reviews, many described their unique sound as having the heaviness of Nirvana with the pop sensibilities of The Beatles. Of course they are no where near as good as those bands, but I understand the comparison to describe their sound.

Songs like the manic “Outtathaway!” and hit single “Get Free” display hints of 90s grunge while ballads as “Homesick” or “Mary Jane” wade in deeper pop waters. Throw in the island themed “Factory” and trippy “Sunshinin'” and you got an album that honors every rock genre. Though the flow of heavy to soft songs doesn’t always gel, it’s as respectable and fun a debut you could want from a blossoming rock band.

Favorite Tracks: “Homesick”, “Outtwathaway!”, “Mary Jane”

Winning Days (2004)
This time around, The Vines returned to the studio as a four piece. Here they are joined by fellow Aussies Ryan Griffiths on guitar/Kurt Cobain impersonator and Hamish Rosser (who looks like a lost Beach Boy) on drums. Working again with producer Rob Schnapf, The Vines turned out a more stylistically consistent record. Though Winning Days received lukewarm reviews, it is my favorite album by the group to date.

Leading off with the catchy single “Ride”, Winning Days never slows down cruising from angsty grunge pop song to another. Craig Nicholls song-writing and vocals are in the best place with this assortment of dark rockers and spacey Summer of Love  ballads. Schnapf’s producing is tight, but not restricting. Everyone on here does a stand up job.

Honestly, I’m not sure how this album got such a bad rap, I heard a lot of people complaining that a lot of these songs were written before Highly Evolved but I don’t see how that’s relevant. Maybe that’s to say they weren’t moving forward, but I disagree. Regardless of when these songs were written, there’s no denying they are more complex and mature than anything than Highly Evolved. Maybe they didn’t include because they weren’t ready for more complex songs?

Backlash aside, the album was successful. Though this wouldn’t prevent the resignation of founding member and bassist Patrick Matthews in mid 2004. Tired of Craig Nicholls bizarre stage antics–only heightened by his abuse of heavy drugs, mental issues–Matthews walked off stage in the middle of a show never to return again.

Favorite Tracks: “Amnesia”, “Ride”, “Winning Days”

Vision Valley (2006)
Recovering from Nicholl’s difficult personal issues after Winning Days, The Vines kept on trucking and recorded their third album. Nicholls cut back on his drug use, finding a more mellow state of mind and the now three man Vines’ went into the studio with producer Wayne Connolly.

It was at this time that The Vines switched to writing shorter, more immediate songs, often barely hitting two minutes. This new approach was a nice experiment, but overall Vision Valley lacked the creative spark of the previous two albums.

Songs like “Anysound” and “Don’t Listen to the Radio” are easy to enjoy, but  most of these songs feel watered down and the album’s length of 31 minutes for 13 songs makes it feel like a kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it experience. Not only this, but the maturity has been stripped back for songs like “Fuk Yeh” and “Futuretarded”. There’s definitely a couple gems, but they’re mostly lost in a sea of unrealized ideas. Not the worst album they could of made but this was definitely the turning point.

Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Listen to the Radio”, “Take Me Back”, “Vision Valley”

Melodia (2008)

With the addition of bassist Brad Heald, The Vines look to be in a better place on Melodia. I’m a little distressed by the brief running time of the album, but from what I’ve heard on their Myspace this could have the potential to grow on me. I’ve found a couple of the songs already stuck in my head so I’ll see how they hold up when I pick it up tomorrow.

Certainly a band that’s had its troubles with success and their outrageous front-man. I’m not sure if they’ll make a comeback over here anytime soon, certainly not through their live shows which Nancy and I can vouch for. Nonetheless, it’s a shame to see some of their wizardry in the studio go unappreciated. Either way, as long as they keep releasing albums as consistently as they do I’ll be listening.