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You Say You Want An Evolution?

 

The Vines: Highly Evolved

Capitol/EMI, 2002

Rating: 3.4

 

 

Posted: July 28, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau

"The saviors of rock!" or "Rock is back!" are the rallying cries rock critics for many institutions (including, sadly, Time magazine) have been shouting in regards to garage-rock revivalists like the Hives, the White Stripes and (sigh) the Strokes. Such folks should be ashamed of themselves. Critics are supposedly attuned to more good music than regular folks; it's their job, actually, to point the way to things the buying public probably isn't aware of. And if these people believe that rock has gone into hiding, they just haven't been paying attention. It requires digging deeper than the supposedly "deep" ruminations of Dave Matthews and the monotonous (in every way) parade of post-grunge soundalikes clogging modern radio, certainly; but believe me, there is indeed rock out there to be had.

That's a subject for another time, but the fact remains that the Vines, despite being the latest to be saddled with the impossible-to-live-up-to-label, are not the "saviors of rock." Which is not to say that Highly Evolved, the L.A.-by-way-of-Australia quartet's debut album, isn't a solid and promising piece of work. It is. Britain's New Musical Express, a breathless hype machine even more shameless in its short-sightedness than Rolling Stone, hails Highly Evolved as nothing less than "a perfect synthesis of the Beatles and Nirvana." That's a stretch of Plastic Man-on-steroids proportions, but the truth is that parts of Highly Evolved do point to a merger of those two influences. Of course, those parts are all to be found in the minute-and-a-half title track, a short, sharp shock of unruly moptop melodicism and grungy, abrasive vocals.

"Highly Evolved" is an energizing, exciting burst, and it's the high point of Highly Evolved. But it's not exactly an insult to say that the rest of the album goes downhill from there. The contact high of "Highly Evolved" keeps buzzing until "Homesick," a tuneful but slight slice of Oasis-like balladry with more heart on its sleeve than an epileptic cardiac surgeon. Indeed, Evolved sports more moments of sugary, harmonious Brit-pop (Aussie-pop?) than it does raucous, garage-rattling rockers. There's nothing wrong with that, certainly: "Sunshinin'," "Country Yard" and especially "Autumn Shade" are pleasant, hummable ditties built on sturdy, if very familiar, foundations. "Outtathaway!" and "Get Free" likewise stumble and stutter with an agreeably boisterous charm, and if their charms are somewhat flimsy, they nonetheless go a long way toward making up for the disc's lackluster moments, and even its merely in-between ones. (The latter includes the painfully eager-to-please "Factory," which sounds like a tour bus collision involving the Specials and XTC.)

Like the White Stripes, the Vines succeed by distilling the potent auras of their classic influences (fuzz-distorted blues-rock in the Stripes' case, infectious British Invasion pop in the Vines') into sonic nuggets equally informed by latter-day rock touchstones. (Contrast this with the Strokes, whose recycled, junior-Velvets-minus-the-drugs mojo sports all the progressive modernity of a Shecky Green gag.) Still, as pleasant as it is, there's nothing remotely revolutionary or groundbreaking about Highly Evolved, which ultimately goes nowhere that Oasis or the Stone Roses haven't been before. The Vines show a great deal of potential, and one just hopes they get the chance to evolve into that potential. But they may not, if their beatification at the hands of the lazy rock critic cognoscenti sets expectations too high.

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