Oh, that dreaded sophomore slump! Many bands never survive to see their
sophomore year, some can’t get beyond it, and others do but we later wish they
hadn’t. I was plenty high on The Vines a couple years back, one of my fav new
bands of 2002 they were. Amidst a year when there were far too many The
bands to be able to decipher, I found The Vines’ youthful energy and brash
approach very refreshing.
Since then, however, I’ve read countless interviews about how many backstage
beer cans they’re able to crush on their forehead, how many shows they’ve
performed but can’t recall the next morning, and ultimately found myself growing
bored of them. Then I came to realize who frontman Craig Nicholls reminds me of.
Remember the MTV sitcom in the early 1990s “The Young Ones”? Nicholls is Vivian,
the obnoxious, zit faced redhead with everything pierced who spews
unintelligible psychobabble for hours on end until another roommate would
eventually clock him over the head with an oversized lug wrench or something.
The Vines sophomore offering Winning Days is nearly as grating on the
patience as a whining Vivian, especially since we know what these cats are more
capable of producing. Lame attempts at over distortion (“Evil Town”) and the
wretched juvenile sense to utilize the word “fuck” as a noun, verb and adjective
(“Ride” and “F.T.W” ad nauseam) pile up to pollute a handful of otherwise
accomplished melodies. Instead, The Vines seem to shine the brightest when they
simplify. I don’t even know that this whole grunge rock thing is necessarily
their best route to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The title track is beautiful in the same way a Beach Boys tune was/is. Remember,
keep it simple. And when distorted noise fails you, try keeping it pretty and
poppy. Yes, that’s it! The Vines write better pop songs (“Sun Child”) than they
do angry grunge songs (“F.T.W”). What do these 20-something guys really have to
be so bitter about anyway? “She’s Got Something to Say to Me” sounds like a
revved up Partridge Family song but it’s very good. This record plays out like a
battle of two bands: a modern day Jan & Dean vs. a two-bit Nirvana cover band.
For the first time in my life maybe, I’m favoring the vocal styling and musical
imagination of Jan & Dean here over a Nirvana rip-off. Mark the date.
Now if we could only settle Nicholls and the boys down for a bit, long enough to
write an entire album of summery pop songs…then we might really have something.