I very rarely read reviews on the www/in various publications before I purchase music. I have my own ears and braincell and prefer those to some other bod’s opinions. I nearly always read reviews after I’ve listened to an album tho’, especially if I’ve gotten a real kick from a new band. (not necessary to the review, I know, but as this is my first album review here, I thought it might help to know how I approach the task).
To my surprise, I’ve found that those in the music press who get paid to write such reviews have pretty much universally slated Winning Days. True, it isn’t as adrenaline charged as The Vines' first album Highly Evolved but much as Highly Evolved was very much stand alone for a debut album, I think Winning Days is as stand alone in itself and comparisons between the two are both unneeded and unnecessary. Still, it is their opinion, written on their own agenda (usually to please the majority of the music buying public/music publishers), you can read them at your leisure, I’m here to give you mine.
My first opinion of this album is that it isn’t really an album. This isn’t a concept piece, there is very little or no cohesion here. Hell, it sounds more like a greatest hits collection than the new material it is. Not so much a thoughtful collection as a slapdash, hastily put together bunch of songs, really great songs. Every different song, I’d say every intro even, has you thinking, “WTF? What’s this all about?” The album hops haphazardly from crunching Nirvana-esque thrash frenzy to rocky chart pop then will plunge into melancholy tunes that border on psychadelica.
And they can play, boy, can these lads play! Whether through good studio production or pure talent (and given The Vines fantastic rep for playing live, I think it might be the latter) you realise on this album that you don’t have a band that relies on the strength of just great vocals or lead guitar to give them a musical edge. Every instrument gets itself heard, and then some. Great guitars, thumping and experimental bass and fantastic drumwork comes to the fore on many of the songs. And it’s not just in the thrash-frenzy tunes they first became famous for that their talent becomes apparent, musically they seem to be able to contort themselves through the various genres they explore on this collection, from screaming rage to gentle acoustic work, it’s all good. It’s enough to make a tuneless Fraggle like me sick with envy.
Then the vocals. The vocals make this album for me. The singer uses his own accent, which I’m glad about (when did rock mean that every bleedin’ singer from Birmingham to Timbuktu had to adopt some kind of fake North American accent?) and he has a good range, can really hit the high notes but struggles in the lower range, which he compensates for by singing in more subdued tones, which works quite well. But, it’s the harmonies. This band have obviously worked hard at creating a really good harmonic sound when a song calls for it, and their work has paid off. Angry songs remain melodic enough to stop them turning into a screaming frenzy and becoming some kind of talentless angsty trash the charts are so full of. On the slower songs, the harmonies really shine, adding just a touch of emotion without oversaturating with sentimentality.
Lyrically. I think you have to be “in the know” to get a lot of the songs here. Lyrically they range from quite clever to blindingly simple. I quite happily listened to the album a half dozen times, enjoying the songs for themselves rather than scanning the lyrics for the singers “message”. Even after I’d searched for the lyrics many of them left me scratching my head in puzzlement, some I got, many remained obscure to me. I’ll leave it up to you to decide, maybe you can connect to the songs easier than I.
So, comparisons. I suppose comparisons are the easiest way to give you an idea of the material The Vines play. Comparing The Vines to Nirvana is inevitable I suppose, in fact the music press seems to have both names together tattooed on the inside of their eyelids. Personally I don’t see a lot of it. Lyrically The Vines lack Kurt Cobain’s songwriting talent and introspection. Musically, The Vines seem to thrive on Nirvana’s almost patented hate and frenzy on occasion but they lack the raw creative power of Nirvana (maybe they capture it on their live shows, I haven’t had an opportunity to find out yet). They have obviously been influenced on a lot of their tracks by Kurt et al but whereas Nirvana relied on their emotions to carry their music forward, The Vines have taken that raw power and polished it to make it a sound of their own. I was also surprised to see a lot of Beatles comparisons published, especially about the song She’s Got Something to Say to Me, a fun rocky-pop song, simplistic in writing and delivery. I think the Beatles is too strong a comparison tho’, I could quite easily imagine this tune being in the back catalogue of a modern band who play that kind of thing, say Supergrass for example. Strong harmonies and psychadelica of course means the Beach Boys, or more specifically Brian Wilson……and maybe yes, I can hear the influences, but I maintain that whatever comparisons are made I wouldn’t accuse The Vines of out and out plagiarism. Influenced, yes. But they have built their own sound from those influences.
So is it worth buying? Yes. Musically The Vines-Winning Days fills a gap between the more retro rockers, Kings of Leon, Jet, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club etc and the more teeny aimed punk-rock, The Hives, The Offspring, Green Day etc. The album has a huge array of different sounds in just eleven tracks, all played well and contains no fillers. If you are looking for new listening material that isn’t brainless psuedo punk-pop but is still accessible enough to have you bouncing around your living room on the first listen or give you time to chill and mellow to tunes that aren’t self-pitiful, I highly recommend it.
- Animal Machine
- TV Pro
- Autumn Shade II
- Evil Town
- Winning Days
- She’s Got Something to Say to Me
- Sun Child
- F.T.W (some copies have this song fully titled as Fuck the World)
Produced by Rob Schnapf
Cat. No UK: 7243 5 98924 0 5 HVNLP 48CD (this copy contains a cd rom/dvd copy of the video for Ride on the disc) Capitol Records 2004