As an Australian, I have a paradoxical relationship to things that make it big out here in the wider world but are still, not to beat around the bush, crap. For example, whenever Lleyton Hewitt is playing a big tennis match, a part of me is cheering “Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie” in my head at the same time as I’m wholeheartedly agreeing with my friends about how obnoxious his fist pumps and shouts of “Come on!” are. So, if I feel a little sorry for the critical panning the Vines have received post-Highly Evolved, cut me a little slack—somewhere inside I’m hurting. Or maybe that’s just my ears, after forcing myself to listen to The Vines’ latest album all the way through.
The Vines are polished so shiny by Capitol on their new record you can see yourself in the reflective, glossy black of the CD booklet. Though there’s nothing technically wrong with being a market-driven band (insert shouts of “sell-out” here), it does help to offer something that would reward fans for sticking with a group over the course of three albums. I’m looking for anything: a sign of an evolving sound, or at the very least, some catchy songs. Instead, for Vision Valley we get a backstory: The Vines almost broke up, you see, after Craig Nicholls freaked out onstage in Sydney, resulting in the exit of bassist Patrick Matthews (on to superstardom with Youth Group) and earning Nicholls a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (a mild form of autism). Very tough to deal with, fine: but they got back in the studio, with Wayne Connollly (producer for ocker rock group You Am I) and have produced a straight-ahead album of short, disposable garage-rock.
Maybe Nicholls’ throw-up-into-the-microphone delivery turns me off; but really it’s not so much the delivery as the lyrics, which flounder inconsequentially and never rise above the level of cliché. On “F*k Yeah”: “Two of a kind/ Three ain’t a pair/ Real love were blind/ Now she don’t care.”
There’s worse, as on “Futuretarded”: “I don’t know how the future started / We might as well all be retarded”. And on it goes.
At least they’ve mostly ditched the drawn-out, stoned atmospherics of “Winning Days”. OK, not entirely—psych harmonies still swirl around songs like “Take Me Back” and the title track, “Vision Valley”. Mostly, we get simple riffs, repeated and quickly forgotten. The first 12 songs rush through at breakneck speed—none is over 2:42 in length. Sure, these in-n-out songs are likeable enough, with fat riffs or strummed guitars, but the trouble with songs like “Don’t Listen to the Radio” is that, with the same structure and feel as “Highly Evolved”, we’ve heard it all before. Either earlier Vines or other bands: the opening of “Going Gone” sounds like Silverchair’s “Ana’s Song (Open Fire)”; “Gross Out” is a lesser “Outtathaway”.
The mark of a bad lyric is that you can pick it up half way through and finish off the cliché—try it on a few of the songs on Vision Valley, you won’t find it difficult to fill in the blanks. The mark of bad songwriting is that halfway through a song you can easily predict the remaining structure—another verse, maybe, then a chorus and the repetition of a chorus, before the song ends. You can easily do that, too, on enough of the songs on Vision Valley that the album fails to make any impression other than utter mediocrity.