Much has changed in the world of The Vines since they first made a name for themselves 12 years ago with their highly acclaimed debut album, Highly Evolved. Initially hailed as the “second coming of Nirvana” by some in the music press, the Australian band were certainly hot property at the time and were regularly featured along with the likes of The Strokes, The White Stripes and The Hives.
However, over a decade later the band now only consists of one original member in erratic frontman Craig Nicholls. Drummer Hamish Rosser, guitarist Ryan Griffiths and bassist Brad Heald have all left the band since the release of The Vines’ fifth album, 2011‘s Future Primitive. They were replaced by drummer Lachlan West and bassist Tim John in 2012, with the new line-up soon entering the studio.
The line-up changes are only part of the evolution of The Vines, though, with their latest LP representing a series of firsts for the band. Not only is Wicked Nature their first double album, it’s their first under their own label Wicked Nature Music and the first time Nicholls has taken on the role of producer – alongside Paul McKercher (You Am I) for disc one and then on his own for disc two.
Consequently, the end results are varied to say the least. The album, which was mostly funded through online direct-to-fan music platform PledgeMusic, certainly starts out strongly – even if somewhat predictably. Metal Zone is everything you would expect of a Vines song, with adrenalin-fuelled guitars and Nicholls’ droning vocal quickly reminding anyone who had forgotten why the band were compared with Nirvana when they first appeared on the scene.
Ladybug is more of the same, with the crunching hook following the loud-quiet-loud formula, as Nicholls does his best Kurt Cobain impression: “Love what have you done to me/ she came in upon a summer breeze/ throw it away and never know/ nothing to taste when you’re alone.” While the opening cuts sound very much like The Vines of old, Psychomatic shows something a bit different, with a more punk-inspired, meaty riff giving the track an infectious reckless abandon.
Considering the pace at which the album moves – the 22 tracks clock in at less than one hour – it is able to avoid many of the trappings that usually come with producing a double album. In fact, it is surprisingly focused for a record that was originally intended to be a single disc. The first disc is by some distance the better of the two, however, and grunge pop tracks such as Anything You Say and Out The Loop could easily sit alongside something like Ride from their second album, 2004’s Winning Days.
Where the first disc does come into difficulties is its slower tracks, with Killing The Planet, Venus Fly Trap and Into The Fire almost too angsty for their own good. It is something that also plagues much of the second, where Nicholls takes full control of production duties. Opener Reincarnation is a promising start and one of the catchiest tracks on the record, but it is unfortunately followed by the unimaginative and mind-numbingly dull Love Is Gone.
Yet for all its faults, Wicked Nature is by no means the disaster it could have been. Tracks such as the beautiful ballad Truth and sparse, melancholic Clueless show flickers of the brilliance that resulted in Highly Evolved. Whether the record would have benefited from the band focusing more on fewer tracks is debatable, but Wicked Nature is in many ways a miniature triumph for an outfit written off by many as has-beens. It confirms that there is still a place for The Vines in 2014.