It was so easy to despise the Vines when they emerged like creatures from the garage lagoon back in 2002 with Highly Evolved. The Australian-turned-Los Angeles quartet was jammed down our throat ad nauseam; they had a nitwit, room-trashing poseur of a frontman in Craig Nicholls; and they unabashedly ransacked the Nirvana catalog when they weren't dabbling in half-baked neo-psychedelia. And yet, "Get Free" was essentially their "get out of jail free" card. Feral hook, reckless verve -- it was the best two-minute, foreigners-do-grunge single since Blur's "Song 2."
Alas, the boys hold no such pass on their tepid followup, Winning Days. An obvious attempt to quell the critical voices suggesting the Vines have limited range, substance, and ideas, the overproduced album ultimately throws a wet blanket on any spark it once possessed. The lead track, "Ride," falls flat in its effort to mix Brit Invasion jangle with Sub Pop squall -- the result is something Supergrass would relegate to a B-side. "Animal Machine" shamelessly apes "Get Free," but not even another rudimentary Bleach-era guitar solo can transform this lackadaisical dud into a winner. Only the closer, "Fuck the World," shows a smidgen of life, but it's simply too little and far too late.