Having worked with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders for the better part of eight years makes it something of a challenge to approach Vision Valley, the third album from Australian garage outfit The Vines, with any kind of critical objectivity, since it’s the band’s first offering since frontman Craig Nicholls was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is characterized less by developmental language delays than by social anxiety and limited, even obsessive interests. Nicholls’s public meltdown after The Vines’ second album, Winning Days, bombed does give credence to possible social difficulties, and fully 12 of Vision Valley‘s 13 tracks suggest that, rather than the trains or dinosaurs that are commonly of interest to children with Asperger’s Syndrome, Nicholls devoted his exclusive attention to a copy of Nirvana’s Nevermind, to the point that it seems like that’s all he knows. The rest of the band, however, doesn’t have that excuse. Without a real gimmick to distinguish themselves from other heavily hyped garage acts—The Strokes’ independently wealthy disaffect, The Hives’ idiosyncratic grasp of the English language and matching ties—The Vines ultimately come off as nothing more than a proficient Nirvana cover band, lacking a perspective of their own or a voice that really demands attention. Vision Valley is just so rote and so juvenile—offhand, there isn’t any band recording today who could get away with a song like “Futuretarded,” pronounced “future-‘tarded,” thereby pulling the punchline of its stupid, stupid joke—that the only productive way to read it is as a deliberate, calculated kiss-off, an un-callable bluff from a band who never felt comfortable with the tireless promotion they received from MTV2 and the popular press and who never found a way to respond to that promotion in an artistically interesting way. Which, realistically, is giving Vision Valley and The Vines entirely too much credit, since the album’s only true saving grace is that, with one exception (“Spaceship,” derivative of either Pink Floyd or Oasis’s “Champagne Supernova,” depending on one’s feelings of generosity), none of its terrible, obnoxious songs hits the three-minute mark. Its brevity, thankfully, makes Vision Valley just that much easier to ignore.
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