[13 March 2008]
When last I spoke to you of neo-garage mall rockers from foreign lands, I made note of the fact that, contrary to popular belief, the Vines were not rocketed into deep space shortly after their initial burst of fame (where, lacking sufficient oxygen and/or insulation, they presumably died) as part of a nefarious doomsday plot hatched by the evil mole people who live beneath the Earth’s surface. The Australian group actually remains alive on our planet, and they’ve been lucky enough to produce three albums worth of slightly unhinged rock slop. As the dirty ragamuffins work towards completing an unprecedented fourth, they present us, the weary iPod masses, with this Best of the Vines.
You may be asking yourself how it is that all these 21st century bands with maddeningly short discographies keep getting away with releasing best-of collections. There is no answer, aside from the fact we’re rapidly approaching 2012, the year that so much alarmist literature has pointed to as the last waltz for mankind. If the pamphlets I’ve read are anywhere near correct, we’re a scant half decade away from total eradication at the hands of a giant asteroid, the Antichrist, and/or a 50-foot-tall robotic Norman Fell (most likely constructed by the mole people). Doom is approaching with a capital D, and there’s a clear rush to remember and cash in on the good times of our brief but wonderful third Millennium. Hey man, remember razor scooters? You’ll wish you held on to yours when Robo-Roper is chasing you and all the other doomsday survivors through the barren, radioactive wasteland that used to be the North Pole.
For the most part, The Best of the Vines proves these Aussie neo-garage rockers are a musical force to be reckoned with. At their best, the Vines are able to present decades-old rock concepts in a manner that’s fresh, lively, and decidedly post-Y2K. The popularity of “Get Free” was mostly based on the combination of its sinew-tearing riff, the spastic ADHD arrangement, and front man Craig Nicholl’s unhinged screaming; strip all that away and at the core is a classic pop melody not unlike something pulled from the early Beatles catalog. The Fab Four are one of the Vines’ most transparent influences, along with Nirvana, a band that has yet to garner an eternally cute nickname. There are only a couple of instances where the presence of these rock ‘n’ roll ghosts is overwhelming (specifically, the “Ob La Di” rip-off “Factory” and the Cobain-by-numbers “Animal Machine”). I suppose the Vines could have worse musical spirits infecting their work. The sonic horror that would have resulted had these gents been raised on a steady diet of Rockwell and Men Without Hats is too frightening to imagine.
If this record has any weakness, it’s that it’s a bit long in the tooth. By the time you hit track twelve, the bittersweet “Homesick”, the complete Vines agenda has been hammered home aplenty. It seems the band could have deleted some of the fluffier ballads that pad out this hits collection. It’s almost as if they’re trying to say to the listener, “Yeah, we were that one really crazy band from the early oughts, the one that got all up in Dave Letterman’s Kool-Aid and generally freaked everyone out with loud rock ‘n’ roll, but we can be all nice and sensitive, too.” Breezy delights “Winning Days” and “Valley Vision” are proof enough of that. The rest, including “Autumn Shade” parts one and two, could have been left on their respective albums. Another hindrance is that The Best of the Vines begins with what are arguably the three biggest tunes in the Vines’ entire catalog (the previously discussed “Get Free”, the head-bobbing car commercial anthem “Ride”, and the swaggering load of attitude that is “Highly Evolved”). Spacing these hits out would have been a tad more advantageous.
You can’t tell these wild, unpredictable, Napster-era rockers how to track their greatest hits, though. If they want their hottest stuff up front, then by golly, that’s how it’s going to be. These Vines live by their own rules. A firm hand on the shoulder and look in the eye will not dissuade them from atonally covering OutKast songs, substantially detuning their guitars in the middle of high profile US television performances, or from having a drummer named Hamish. I can’t take umbrage, though, so long as this group continues to release albums containing barely together, scream-drenched rock nuggets sandwiched between half-baked stabs at McCartney-esque musical dreamscapes. This will provide a nice soundtrack as I work on my fallout shelter, helping me to recall a time when the worry of 2012 and rising mole person/human aggression took a backseat to the unbelievable exploits of the Osbourne family, the inspiring early films of Mandy Moore, and the incredible breakthrough that was the sabermetrics baseball analysis system.