Here’s one I’d completely forgotten about, The Vines Highly Evolved from way back in 2002. Back then the British music press, that bastion of hype free introspection and decorum, were shrieking at us about an invasion of great bands from down under, which sort of coalesced into the rocktastic Datsuns and the Vines, they both released a good LP, played a bunch of great gigs in this country and left. End of. Now I gravitated towards the leather-clad rockers more, followed them and pretty much forgot all about the Vines.
I shouldn’t have.
Highly Evolved kicks off with the snarling 95-second title track, which made a great (if not great value-for-money) single. This was the first time I’d heard a young band influenced by Nirvana, properly channelling them through their music* and I can’t recommend it highly enough, all the sneer and crunch you could possibly want. If that was all the Vines were then that would have been great, but limited but they had a good few tricks to throw at us that belied their tender years. They switch straight into the elegant, stately ‘Autumn Shade’, a drowsy 60’s-tinged wonder, dripping Hammond and boasting a swoonsome guitar melody line; quite probably my favourite thing here.
Which sets the pattern for Highly Evolved as a whole, stroppy/swoony/stroppy/swoony repeat, well they were a bunch of teens. ‘Outtathaway’ was good enough to make me buy it on 7″**, carrying just enough ‘No-one tells me to tidy my room!’ rage to toe the exciting/exasperating line expertly. After the psych-tinged pop of ‘Sunshinin’, we get the heartfelt but a bit bland-ish, sun-bleached, ‘Homesick’, which is all very nice and melodic but a little Elton John-esque for my tastes, nice piano and all. It’s a relief when the toddler tantrum of ‘Get Free’ lurches into earshot, propelled by the pounding of Joey Waronker on drums it’s a really cool mix of garage rock filtered again through Seattle – Grarage? Garunge?
Honourable mentions must go to ‘The Factory’ a goofy fusion of reggae, Beatles harmonies and garunge^, it should sound horribly wrong, but just sounds like a soundtrack to long summer holidays full of Frisbee, beaches and lissome girls on blankets … (sighs wistfully, whilst remembering own lengthy summer holidays spent playing AD&D and coming out in spots in rainy Wales). It really is ace! The really rather fab ‘In The Jungle’ even copes a trick or too from Blue Öyster Cult and is all the better for it, holding a little psych menace in its’ grooves.
Highly Evolved closes out with ‘1969’, the longest track on the album, on which the Vines seemingly reuse every single element from the whole LP – there’s a rock out, a grungey bit, some garunge, definitely a chunk of psych, some BOC menace and loads grarage. It doesn’t quite make it the end-all defining Vines moment it sets out to be, but it is damned good though and a suitable full-stop for the album.
The Vines made more albums but never again got the sort of exposure and traction that Highly Evolved got, well not over here anyway. It’s a shame, this album had exactly the right mix of creative ambition and swagger that all young guitar bands should aspire to, the Vines had all the talent and vision that the likes of Oasis only possessed very fitfully. Unfortunately, a NME clipping I stuffed into my copy of the album may hold the key, in print^^ they just came over as a bit intense and dull, nothing much to say about anything much, no big story. They made a second LP that I never got around to buying and then started shedding personnel.
Never mind, remember them this way as a real youthful Technicolor blast, pretty highly evolved right from the go and a great summer soundtrack.
PS – Highly Evolved used to be in the 1001 Albums You Must hear Before I Kill You book, but appears to one of the ones that got shuffled out the pack recently. Shame.
*as opposed to bunches of uninspired drongos copying them wholesale.
**the B-side was a very cool cover of Outkast’s ‘Ms Jackson’.
^I’m starting to like this word now.
^^still important back then in the medieval ages.