Feel Old, Celebrate: It’s Been 15 Years Since The Vines’ Highly Evolved Came Out

Remember how great Craig Nicholls was on Letterman?

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Haha, oh time, you cheeky bugger, just ticking away quietly over in some unseen corner till something like this comes up and makes us realise what you’ve been up to. The middle of July just passed marked the 15 year anniversary of the release of one of Australian rock n roll’s greatest albums – Highly Evolved – and with it, the anniversary of the arrival of one of Australian rock n roll’s greatest bands, The Vines. Fusing influences of Nirvana grunge, and britpop, they were Australia’s face, our players, in a new era of guitar rock that took over in the early 2000s, following the release of the The Strokes’ hugely influential Is This It, released a year earlier in 2001.

The album was an unbelievable power packet of garage rock, opening with first single, “Highly Evolved”, backed by the blockbuster, “Get Free”, and followed up with the off-the-chain “Outtathaway”. Despite it eventually being included in the book, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, as well as the book, One Hundred Best  Australian Albums, The Vines only received one Aria Award, the award for “Breakthrough Artist – Single” (they lost out to Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, Silverchair’s Diorama, and George’s Polyserena for best single, best rock album, best group, and best breakthrough artist album, respectively).

But it was incredibly exciting time to watch the Sydney band rise to the top of the world on the back of a lone debut album, culminating in two peak moments, getting the cover of Rolling Stone (the American version, not the Australian iteration) in October that year, the first Australian band to do so since Men At Work in the 1980s, with the, incredible coverline: Rock Is Back, Meet The Vines.

And their brilliant and unhinged performance on Letterman (top of the page), one of the all time greatest to go down in the Ed Sullivan Theatre.

Famously Alex Turner was inspired to learn guitar and start his band the Arctic Monkeys after going to his first gig and seeing The Vines play, and Craig Nicholls performance as a frontman in that same year.

Sadly, and what is so often the case, frontman Craig Nicholls’ erratic, self-destructive rock n roll behaviour that made them so luminescent, so infectious, was also detrimental to his health and wellbeing, touring for the second album was marred with a series of gig breakdowns, resulting in Triple M banning playing Vines tracks on their station. Nicholls was diagnosed with Aspergers in 2004.

Highly Evolved wasn’t all reckless distortion though, around the bigger tracks is a beautiful softer side filling out the album, with ballads like fourth single, Homesick:

And Autumn Shade:

And not on the record, but often included as a boot-leg bonus on the burnt CD-Rs shared around schoolyards in 2002, was their cover of Outkast’s Ms. Jackson (originally released as a B-side on the single release of Outtathaway). In a time before Triple J’s weekly “band covering another band feature”, Like A Version, their take to bring a hip hop number into an emotional indie ballad was mind-blowing.

But then so was everything about The Vines when we first heard about them in 2002.

Mike Jennings