To find a band as hyped as The Vines have been in the weeks leading up to the release of their debut album, Highly Evolved, you have to go all the way back to... May? The Vines, four young Australians, have spent the summer garnering the sort of breathless coverage that in the spring seemed reserved for Swedish punk outfit The Hives or, a year ago, The Strokes; they are, according to one British glossy, "the future of rock."
It's hard to figure out exactly why everybody is so excited about this record. True, the title track/first single comes busting out of the gate with a tight 94 seconds of crunching guitars and urgent, howling vocals: "I'm feelin' happy," sings Craig Nicholls. "So highly evolved." And "Outathaway!" which opens with Hamish Rosser assaulting his drum kit and Nicholls telling listeners that "We're not fucking around," may even be better. It has a lean and grimy sound that can't be taught.
There are several other keepers. "Get Free" is an anthemic bit of post-punk that falls somewhere along the Pixies-Nirvana axis, and "Ain't No Room" is propelled by Nicholls' occasionally buried vocals and Patrick Matthews' surging bass.
That said, there are a surprising number of tracks that seem unfinished, or worse, overproduced. "Homesick," a tear-jerking ballad that would make Poison frontman Bret Michaels jealous, is an affront to good taste. Complete with a powerhouse guitar solo and lyrics that are both maudlin and mundane "It really doesn't matter/ Couldn't change it if I tried/ It really doesn't matter/ I'll do it till I get it right" it is "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" for the indie set. "In the Jungle," which starts with Blue Öyster Cult-like guitars and goes out with 15 seconds of Sonic Youth-esque feedback, is equally uninspiring.
And then there is a track called "Factory," which sounds like nothing so much as an outtake from the Yellow Submarine sessions it is pretty and bouncy and it has the obligatory soaring harmonies. The Vines are a band of guys who grew up listening to Lennon/McCartney songs, and that's fine. But the last thing anyone needs is another band that plays Beatles covers.
"Factory" is emblematic of the record as a whole. There is something there to like plenty, in fact. But it is also disjointed and sometimes maddening. It's a record that shows off a bit too much, made by a band that isn't sure what it wants to be, at least not yet.