On the eve of the release of The Vines’ fourth album, ‘Melodia’, in July 2008, NME published an official apology for building up the Australian grunge trio. “Let’s get this out of the way, because it’s not something we’re too fond of doing. To those of you who bought the issue of NME dated July 23, 2002, please accept our sincerest and most unreserved apologies,” it read. The writer apologised for that issue’s heralding of Craig Nicholls as the de facto saviour of rock’n’roll. “Well, we weren’t right. And for that we’re sorry. But nobody deserved ‘Melodia’,” he wrote.
The Vines were NME cover stars five times from 2002 – the year debut ‘Highly Evolved was released – to 2004. And for good reason. Their debut LP was a blistering onslaught of noisy rock riffs and Nicholls’ possessed howling, while the live shows were messy, unpredictable and exhilarating masterclasses in pirouetting along the brink of everything falling apart.
The Vines’ assumed ascension to the top of the rock leagues didn’t go to plan. Yes, 2008’s ‘Melodia’ was a grave disappointment to pretty much everyone but the band had begun to unravel years earlier. Nicholls’ behaviour grew erratic in the early 00s: he trashed the sets of TV shows like Late Show With David Letterman and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in 2002, and was accused of assaulting photographers in 2004. A diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome that year went some way to explaining the frontman’s antics. Not, then, an exercise in fulfilling rock’n’roll clichés, but an illness that deserved support and respect. Once diagnosed, Nicholls was instructed to take care of his diet (once mainly centred around McDonalds), stop smoking weed and curtail his touring.
It seems looking after himself has worked although half of 2014 comeback ‘Wicked Nature’ was delayed due to personal reasons. With Nicholls back in a good place and to avoid any further delays in getting the material out there, the two were melded together to form this mammoth comeback.
‘Wicked Nature’ isn’t the first album the band have released since the dismally received ‘Melodia’. ‘Future Primitive’ in 2011 went by largely unnoticed, so much so that when this latest LP was announced, reactions on social media suggested many were taken aback to learn The Vines still existed, which should come as no surprise given Nicholls’ reclusive existence in his Sydney home. “I really have no connection to anything. I can’t drive a car, I don’t have a mobile phone, I can’t work computers or the internet or anything,” he told NME earlier this year. “I don’t understand it.” That isolation is the driving force and the power of ‘Wicked Nature’.
That the new album sounds like The Vines gone full circle back to their ‘Highly Evolved’ days is another effect of Nicholls’ shunning the 21st century. “It’s difficult to keep up with new music,” he admitted in the same interview, before listing his influences as the same as he cited in 2002 – The Beatles, Oasis, Blur, The Kinks and Nirvana. It’s no bad thing. Drawing from the sounds Nicholls knows best – instead of experimenting with electronica as on ‘Future Primitive’ – he has produced a record that could lift The Vines out of obscurity and back on to the path they veered from after 2006’s ‘Vision Valley’. ‘Wicked Nature’ finds them buoyed by fresh blood, rejuvenated and – hopefully – back to stay for a long time.
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