Let’s go back to the Great Rock and Roll Renaissance of 2002 – The Vines’ debut album, Highly Evolved, was released and struck a major chord worldwide. Lead single “Get Free” caught fire and the band were suddenly on the cover of Rolling Stone (the first Australian band to do so in twenty years), playing massive shows, selling tons of records and making a legendary appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman.”
However, within a year, the toll of relentless touring and exposure was creating a new set of headlines. Nicholls was having very well-chronicled difficulties -- his behavior becoming more and more erratic, and at times dangerous. Performances would veer between electrifying and total chaos, the press and fans were turning on them and they hadn’t even reached album two.
By the time 2004’s Winning Days was released Nicholls had begun to spiral out of control, coming to a head when he was charged with assault after an onstage incident at Sydney’s Annandale Hotel, and resulting in the departure of bassist Patrick Matthews.
Nicholls was soonafter diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder and form of autism. People with the condition are generally considered exceptionally intelligent, and often obsessively focus their attention on music or art, but have difficulty reading social situations and coping with change. This, everyone assumed, marked the end of the Vines.
But drummer Hamish Rosser and guitarist Ryan Griffiths stuck by Nicholls through this most difficult period, and by the spring of 2005 he’d worked up some new songs and it was time for the Vines to rise from the ashes.
With producer Wayne Connolly in tow, the trio recorded sessions at a variety of locations in Sydney and came away with an album that has seen the Vines come full circle. Starting over, they simply have nothing to lose. There are no splashy production values, famous studios or endless overdubs here. But there are 13 tremendous new songs that veer from gorgeous summer pop to blistering garage stomp to scattergun punk to epic psychedelia.
Lead single “Don’t Listen to the Radio” is an anthemic slab of garage pop, cheery handclaps belying a mountain of guitar crunch and sweetly shredded vocals. Opening one-two punch “Anysound” and “Nothins Comin,” originally intended as demos but stubbornly kept to kick things off, are riff-tastic hard rockers with effortlessly fluid harmonies and beyond-sticky hooks.
Title track “Vision Valley” is one of Nicholls’ trademark skyward bits of grand psychedelia, a trait shared with epic six-minute Floydian closer “Spaceship.” All of which makes it hard to believe that this is the same songwriter behind the high-velocity punk assaults of “Gross Out” and “Fuk Yeh.”
With Nicholls unable to tour or do much in the way of album promotion, this is music that thankfully speaks for itself. To tap into its power all you have to do is listen.
The Vines, Vision Valley
2. Nothins Comin
3. Dandy Daze
4. Vision Valley
5. Don’t Listen to the Radio
6. Gross Out
7. Take Me Back
8. Going Gone
9. Fuk Yeh
11. Dope Train