Vines debut has some thorns

by David Klein | 7/22/02 5:00am

Well two out of three ain't bad. The British media hype machine was dead on when they proclaimed The Strokes as the next big thing. And you couldn't blame them for gushing over The Hives' "Vini Vidi Vicious," a gritty punk powerhouse that permeates a classic CBGBs scent (certainly not the actual odor of the seminal Bowery club).

But just as Tiger Woods saw his grand slam hopes fall apart in the third major of the year (which just happened to have been the British Open), the U.K. press simply botched up when they chose to make rock deities out of The Vines, the cherubic quartet that quickly established a devoted following in their native Australia.

With their suitable for "Teen Beat" mugs, finely sculpted messy haircuts and thrift shop wardrobe, it's hard not to think these guys aren't a reincarnation of The Strokes (and for that matter, a reincarnation of Television, The Ramones, et al). But when you get to the music of the Vines, it becomes clear that style isn't everything.

It's certainly strange that the band's debut, "Highly Evolved" was only released last week, as word of the album has been spreading since last year. Over the past few months, The Vines have introduced to themselves to American audiences with positive results, playing festivals such as the HFS Fest in Washington D.C. and Cocachella in California, and earning heavy rotation for their single, "Get Free" on MTV and rock radio.

But while "Get Free's" startling energy and brevity (the song clocks in at just over two minutes) is en par with anything The Hives have to offer, its better equated with a "Song 2," a punk aberration on a largely standard Brit (or rather Aussie) pop album. And let's face the facts: when it comes to balls-out, keep you on the edge of your seat wailing Damon Albarn is no Howlin' Pelle Almquivst. And when it comes to cool, Liam Gallagher is no Julien Casablancas --well at least not in the last eight years.

When Vines lead singer Craig Nicholls belts out a scream, on songs such as Outthaway and Sunshinin (someone should teach these kids how to spell) his youthful exuberance is overwhelmed by staid guitars and endearing harmonies.

I'd like to know what the group was thinking when they opted to include the been there, heard that power ballad, "Homesick" which is sadly reminiscent of the Motley Crue tearjerker, "Home Sweet Home," lame guitar solo and all. "Mary Jane" teeters on early 80s nostalgia with its power-chord chorus, that corrupt an otherwise, Beatlesque hypnotic track.

That album closes with "1969" one of those epic Jane's Addiction-like songs that gets better with each listen. "It's 1969 in my head/I just wanna have no place to go" Nicholls proclaims to forceful alterna-beat. Of course, throws in one of his signature yelps, but this time, it's energy matches up perfectly to the accompanying music, with both emanating a raw and forceful vibe.

Despite its flaws "Highly Evolved" is certainly a respectable debut. Compared to Hoobastank, Puddle of Mudd and the countless other alt-rock leftovers in the ilk, it certainly lives up to its name.

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