Record Review - 2 July 17 2002

Between the Strokes, the Hives and now the Vines, the alternative charts are sounding more like a '60s "Hullabaloo" lineup every day. Maybe it's the Austin Powers factor, but at a time when slicked-up post-grunge has turned the commercial airwaves into aural oatmeal, the Vines' retro-blast sounds positively refreshing.

Effusively dubbed "the most brilliant band of 2002" by England's NME music rag, the group has relocated from Sydney, Australia, to Los Angeles, a culture shock that might explain their debut's scattered approach. As to whether the band can live up to the already deafening hype, the short answer is: not entirely.

There are certainly glimpses of potential — if not quite brilliance — here. Singer/songwriter Craig Nicholls attempts to reconcile feel-good '60s experimentalism with the angry, disenfranchised '90s. But Highly Evolved's mix of nervy concepts, savvy production and scattershot songwriting never really gels.

For all his noble aspirations, Nicholls possesses neither a unique singing voice nor a defined direction. Hence, the band's schizoid music changes course faster than a bumper car in an amusement park, wallowing in a Nilsson approximation of a John Lennon ballad on the Oasis-styled "Homesick" before launching into the pissed-off garage attack of "Get Free."

Despite these limitations, there is enough raw talent on display to suggest that, with some luck, the Vines might eventually creep onto contemporary radio. But they may have to do it one song at a time.The Vines play the Cotton Club Tues., July 23.