When I was fifteen I saw Craig Nicholls lose his shit. It was at the short-lived and criminally underrated Great Escape festival: the vibes were lax, the air was skunky, and I remember the guy that I was there with advising me pre-emptively that “this is gonna be one of those life-changing live moments: The Vines playing at sunset”. That guy turned out to be a total fucking psycho.
Australia’s contribution to 00’s garage rock revival The Vines are independently releasing a new double LP. Take of that what you will.
It’s fitting in a way because, to put it bluntly, Craig Nicholls is a total fucking psycho. Don’t take that flippantly: Nicholls does have clinically diagnosed Asperger’s, but it’d be a copout to reduce what I saw that day to an autistic episode. It was like a caricature of the archetypical ‘rock n’ roll’ performance: the kind of raw, devil-may-care abandon you always want but rarely get from so-called ‘punk’ garage bands. A matter of songs in and the shrieking, dour-faced frontman had sledgehammered his first guitar.
A few tracks later and he was hurling its replacement skyward mid-song — the spry-footed backup guitarist barely missing a note as he ducked to the side of an early demise; the drummer jumping ship as Nicholls gutter-stomped the entire percussion section.
Clearly they’d come to expect something along these lines—this wasn’t a spontaneous combustion: it was premeditated demolition. And by the time the sun had disappeared and the band had left the rubble of the stage behind, it was unclear whether the set had reached its natural conclusion or whether Hurricane Craig had simply ransacked all musical resources. In any case, The Vines had done what they’d come to do: cut sick, no holds barred, and give the people a rock show.
I felt the need to share this anecdote because, if there’s one thing to be said in this band’s favour, it’s that they know how to put on a live performance—and if you get the chance to see them live, it’ll probably be worth your while.
But I don’t like The Vines. I’ve never really liked The Vines. It’s not even that I’m biased against their particular genre of thrash garage rock, either: I have a lot of time for bands like The Hives, The Dandy Warhols, and the ever-brilliant Vasco Era. But even for a music scene built on the jangling skeleton of controlled chaos and slacker sensibilities, The Vines have always seemed a little too messy to hold any water.
Paradoxically, it’s the same chaotic nonchalance that makes them such an incendiary live act, but the recordings hardly ever really translate to anything more than shallow and tiresome ‘Aussie rock’—the kind of songs that use words and clauses like “tonight” and “oh yeah” as lyrical staples (“Gimme love gimme love gimme love: I really need it”? Get the fuck outta here). To be fair, there are one or two notable exceptions: tracks that have become household names like Get Free and Ride, if you can separate them from that palpable car commercial aesthetic, are probably deserving of their cult status.
Out The Loop, the new track from Nicholls and co*, is not one of these exceptions. And that’s probably all that deserves to be said about it.
It is worth mentioning, however, that the unreleased double LP from which the song is taken, Wicked Nature, is being crowd-funded through a ‘pledge’ campaign. Worth mentioning, mainly, because these kind of marketing strategies are usually undertaken by off-the-radar upstarts hoping to get a small slice of the commercial pie, rather than those rock stars already wiping the crumbs from their lips with uncashed cheques from Toyota. Apparently the funds accrued from ‘preorder pledges’ will be invested into the recording process, as well as financing worldwide promotion, and will earn the pledger instant access to a sample from the anticipated release. If the album does ever see the light of day, pledgers will be able to access it in its entirety.
This whole thing irks me a bit. There’s an attempt at justification in the press release: apparently The Vines have gone fully independent, you see— “No major label involved anymore. No more battling what is expected of a band”. Meaning that, rather than dig into their own, presumably loaded pockets, this new ‘independent’ band must depend upon the charity of its fans—fans that will in turn receive minimal touring from a group that should really learn to play to its strengths.
If Craig needed to fill the tank on the tour-van I might consider throwing the guy a dime: The Vines are still one of the most blistering live acts that this country’s produced in recent years. If he were funding the revival of The Vasco Era or the Great Escape festival I’d give him five times what he’s asking. But when the hook is baited with less than 90 seconds of this uninspired “new material” and with little to no promise of the one thing about this band that actually gets me off — there’s just not enough reason for me to bite.
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