Is it just me, or do the Vines seem to relish the title of Garage Rock Punching Bag that was thrust upon them after the release of their underwhelming sophomore record, 2004’s Winning Days, if not the moment the Hives blew them off the stage at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards? Acknowledging that status and doing something to fix it, however, are two different things, and it’s one that plagues Melodia, the band’s fourth album, and fourth identical-sounding-album-in-a-row, released late last year, but only seeing a stateside release now in Spring ‘09.
As ever, both iterations of the band—fuzzed-out rockers and mid-tempo Beatles-apers—make up Melodia‘s 14 tracks and 30 minutes. So yes, if you’ve spent any time with the Vines’ three previous records you know what you’re getting yourself into: the quietLOUDquiet singles candidates: “Get Out”, “He’s a Rocker” (where frontman Craig Nicholls exalts/excoriates the titular dude by noting “he’s got nothin’ to say / All he’s ever playin’ is that rock ‘n’ roll music”); the quietLOUDquiet album filler (same as above, only less memorable/well defined): “Braindead”, “Merrygoround”, and “Hey” (with Nicholls’ telling assertion that “I had enough of my time / So I threw it away”); and the songs that start quiet… and stay that way.
After a one-album hiatus, the “Autumn Shade” saga continues—here, snuck onto the tracklist as “A.S. III”, and as the song floats away, one realizes that Nicholls has given more thought to the concept of “Autumn Shade” than anyone else on the planet. Meanwhile, “Orange Amber” might as well be called “Autumn Shade IV” and loses further points for the phrase “I remember standing in that orange womb.” However, the six-minute string-laden centerpiece “True As The Night” and “Kara Jayne” point to the Vines at their best: relaxed, confident enough to turn down the volume, and heavily indebted to the Beatles sense of pop orchestration. Granted, these songs may not be “cool”, and perhaps they stand out only when compared to the band’s faceless, genero-rock output, but a) no one else seems to be mining this territory quite the same way; and b) they’re good at the quiet songs.
I understand that the band has bigger fish to fry than silly old rock and roll albums, as Nicholls continues his uphill battle with Asperger’s Syndrome, but going “quiet” may be something for Nicholls to consider next time he finds himself sitting in the autumn shade penning tunes for the next Vines record.
In the meantime, a fourth sound-alike album earns the band a four.
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