Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Am a Vines Apologist

The garage rock revival between 2000 and 2002 is inevitably linked with The Invasion of The "The's" - meaning four bands that all garnered noteriety with albums released in a short span of about a year: The Hives' Veni Vidi Vicious, The Strokes' Is This It?, The White Stripes' White Blood Cells, and The Vines Highly Evolved. People that followed the bands know their respective trajectories.

The Strokes survived the media hype to their debut, even mocking it in the title, then were criticized horrifically (and a little harshly in my opinon) for their subsequent two records. Room on Fire was an absolutely fantastic album, and the line associated with it that stuck with me came from the RollingStone review of their third album First Impressions of Earth. Rob Sheffield wrote:

"Really, this could be the excessive, erratic second album Room On Fire wasn't; if you switched the order of the two albums, Room On Fire would undoubtedly get hailed as their return to form."

Despite my puzzlement at the reception to that album, The Strokes decided to experiment on their third album, and have since been on a hiatus as Albert Hammond Jr. pretends he can have a solo career.

The White Stripes pulled the masterpiece album Elephant out of a recording session that lasted something like two weeks on equipment that predated the Beatles, and then promptly abandoned garage rock in favor of Tennessee blues and other excesses. I still say Elephant is their best album by far, and I even prefer White Blood Cells to any of the stuff since 2003.

The Hives have indulged themselves in crazier production on songs like "Diabolic Scheme" off of Tyrannosaurus Hives. They moved away from straight ahead garage rock and even worked with The Neptunes and Timbaland in recording sessions for their third album.

The Vines, straight out of Australia, were different from the other three, and have had without a doubt the least successful career. However, I still really enjoy their music. Highly Evolved was a legitimately sweet album, but frontman Craig Nicholls got one too many Kurt Cobain comparisons from the British press. Sure he had the yelling and rambunctious, destructive stage presence down, and he did the soft-loud-soft song structure, but his music never really matched Nirvana. The Vines seemed much more akin to a garage rock Beach Boys, what with all the lush acoustic styling on songs like "Winning Days" and "Sun Child."

The band released their second album Winning Days to little acclaim and less popularity despite some really solid songs. The problem was that most of the tracks were rejects from the recording sessions of their debut album, because the cracks around Nicholls' psyche were already starting to show. During the tour for that album, their bassist left the band after Nicholls blew up in the middle of a concert. What followed was an extended hiatus for the band and a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome for Nicholls. The band seemed finished with a career that showed promise and then burned up in the way most critics thought would've happened to The Strokes instead.

Nicholls was always full of energy and a simplistic rock songwriting skill. The videos the band made prove that, as he was always bouncing around to the simplest of rock chord progressions that he twisted and turned slightly to get as many songs as he could out of them. Some would call that repetitive, others would call it lazy; I saw it a genuine love for music and wanting to just keep writing songs.

Most people didn't pay attention when Nicholls recovered and reformed the band with the two remaining members, releasing Vision Valley with a simple, black and white cover and a return to simple straightforward songs, as well as some pretty nice videos.

The released their fourth album, Melodia, about two weeks ago, and I still enjoy their music. They are the only one out of the four big garage rock class of 2001 to still be doing pretty much what they were doing when they started out. I'm totally okay with that, because every now and again all I want are some simple rock riffs, and Craig Nicholls delivers those in spades. Sure he's not a complete genius, and certainly not the next Kurt Cobain, but I'm really glad he's healthy and back making music.

So, in honor of The Vines, I'm posting a Muxtape of some of my favorite Vines songs. Take a listen and see what the perennially fourth ranked band has to offer. Maybe you'll find 2:30 of enjoyment out of a single song, that'd be good enough for me.

The Essential Vines Muxtape

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