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Fully Evolved, Right from the Start

The Vines

The Vines - Highly Evolved
(Capitol Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 5, 2002

By Tony Bonyata

Armed with the sweet melodies and layered harmonies of The Fab Four after being gobbed on by Johnny Rotten, the Australian band The Vines are making rock music, once again, seem a bit more vital.
Obviously weaned on the sounds of classic pop rock, as well as spending their fair share of time hammering out three chords in the garage, this quartet has delivered a minor gem of a debut prophetically entitled Highly Evolved. Like the best punk and hard rock before them, this album demands movement - any movement - from it's listener. Whether it's foot tapping, knee-slapping or just good old-fashioned headbanging, these four lads know one thing for sure, and that's how to kick out the jams, mofos. But long after the forced body spasms have stopped, its the enduring songs from this band that linger on much later.
While they're currently being lumped in with other media darlings such as The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Hives, the only thing that any of them really have in common with one another, other than a sense of 'deja vu' to unrelated retro sounds, is that, when push comes to shove, they all know how to rock like there's no tomorrow. Whether it's rehash or not isn't really the issue either. Because, the fact is, all of these young acts have injected a much needed urgency back to music.
Like most rock music, which consistently reinvents itself through revisiting, reprocessing and regurgitating, nothing is altogether new here, but, just as the oven door opens to reveal the warm buttery aroma of homemade bread (one of the oldest processed foods known to man), there's no denying the freshness of this new movement of young bands who collectively pound and knead their unbridled testosterone into their well-crafted compositions.
On Highly Evolved The Vines play tag between high octane rockers, bleeding power pop and sweet ballads with an honest conviction. Songs such as the opening title track, with squelching guitars and a sense of nonchalant vocal angst, not felt since Kurt Cobain, from singer Craig Nicholls, as well as "Outtathaway" and "Get Free" all whip their listener into submission through threatening rhythms and snotty sneers. Tougher to pull off without sounding sappy, though, are the ballads that they handle with kid gloves, such as "Country Yard," the reflective "Autumn Shade" and "Mary Jane." Instead of falling into the gooey schmaltz that most bands sink to when trying a little tenderness, The Vines pull these numbers off with wonderfully rich harmonies, indelible melodies and swelling choruses, nodding to previous pop craftsmen, such as The Kinks and those two Liverpudlian guys from the '60s.
With a strong debut chockfull of memorable tunes, The Vines have immediately joined rank with some of Australia's biggest names, such as AC/DC and Midnight Oil. But with a catchy song in their head and a fight in their heart, not to mention a, seemingly, endless future in front of them, this young, motley foursome are sure to evolve into something much more than just another band from Down Under.

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