The Vines : Future Primitive

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The Vines : Future Primitive


It’s hard not to think of Craig Nicholls as the Johnny ‘Cobra Kai’ Lawrence of Australian music. Where Billy Zabka’s evil character swept the leg of Ralph Maccio’s obviously hurt Daniel Laruso, after years of being lauded as a precocious enfant terrible Craig Nicholls infamously swung a foot at a photographer; unfortunately, it was during a gig in 2004 and not the All-Valley Karate Tournament, and he’s since tried to live down the idea that he’s plainly nuts. Diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, Nicholls successfully turned the perception that he was more off the rails than an Irish version of Charlie Sheen into something that the public could understand and feel sympathy for. Basically, thinking Nicholls is some sort of off-the-hook jerk is as relevant now as a Hootie & The Blowfish album.

With that all coalescing around him post-2004 and their second album Winning Days, the two albums since, Vision Valley and Melodia were misunderstood, not given due attention and stand criminally underrated in the annals of the last decade of music. This would equate to where Lawrence graciously handed Laruso the champion’s trophy before being choked out by his former sensei, John Kreese, in the car park.

Essentially, the problem lies in that it’s almost as though that Asperger Syndrome has caused him to be so comfortable with the ‘familiar’ that he’s written the same album five times, with varying degrees of success. It’s almost as though he’s trying to perfect the idea of The Vines in recorded form, at the denigration of his obvious talent. For instance, Future Primitive’s first ‘slow’ tune, Leave Me In The Dark, could be off any Vines album – there’s a lot to be said for consistency, but also, conversely, for stagnation and a lack of artistic evolution.

Where Nicholls and The Vines excel is with thrashy pop that hurtles headlong into a wall of classic rock ‘n” roll, with added liberal slashes of punk – see Ride, Outtathaway, Fuck The World etc – here represented by album highlight Gimme Love or the hazy brilliance of S.T.W. That still shines brightly, and remains the band’s finest calling card.

But these generalised romantic platitudes and slacker ‘fuck everybody’ ideals are extremely limited, especially when it’s a band’s fifth album. Band’s such as The Ramones could get away with it, because no one, especially the band themselves, expected or wanted anything further than three chords and pithy lyrics. The Vines, however, have obvious talent, especially in Nicholls – they could be great, but we’re still waiting for them to write a great record.

The problem is, every song, beyond the heaving-riffage of Black Dragon or frantic-scifi-punk fury of Future Primitive leaves you wanting to explore more of the band – for the songs to have some hint of a depth of insight or meaning to them, beyond simply a quick glimpse into Nicholls’ obviously turbulent – and admittedly fascinating – mind.

Even on All That You Do – the best ballad Nicholls has written, and the moment on the record – he’s closed off and he writes in obtuse, and sometimes completely literal, metaphor, which in turn loses all its imbued meaning. It’s like when M.A.S.H. started having episodes where it turned into 24 minutes of waiting for Alan Alda to come up with a one liner – that one liner and all that happens in the lead up to it, suddenly doesn’t mean anything.

Because The Vines still insist on building songs like Weird Animals or Riverview Avenue into such a distinctly ‘Vines’ framework – where a hint of something different is alluded to, but not explored beyond the two minutes of the song – it remains tough for the band to make an emotional attachment. Because when they don’t seem to really want to, the natural instinct is also to resist.

There’s a distance there, where the band themselves almost don’t want to let you in – as though as they’ve matured, they’ve almost become wary of opening themselves too much, to prevent… what exactly? They could be a band for the ages – if we got to know them. After five albums, it still doesn’t feel like we’ve got any insight into The Vines whatsoever. Johnny Lawrence learnt his lesson, you wonder when The Vines will.