The Vaccines – English Graffiti Review

The Vaccines burst onto the scene in 2011 with their debut LP “What Did You Expect from the Vaccines” which was chock full of their trade mark up-beat, fun and catchy riffs typified by songs like” Noorgard” and “Wolf Pack”. Add to this the underrated lyrical talent of the bands song writer and front man Justin Young who was able to show off his ability to match catchy riffs with equally catchy lyrical hooks like on the chorus of “Noorgard”. The album’s title probably summed it up conclusively – this was to be what we would expect from the Vaccines (who didn’t exactly experiment a great deal with this effort) and indeed has proven to be their core sound.

They followed this up with what we can presume was supposed to be a redefinition of their sound with “Come of Age” (2012). The obvious implication being that the Vaccines had redefined themselves and their music would undergo some changes. Whilst there were small changes to their earlier effort, most notably a much more cleaned up production style but it was hardly the redefinition we were expecting. The LP was distinctly more moody and dark as well. The darker sound of songs like “Weirdo” and “Bad Mood” was offset with a much more sugary, bubble-gum pop tone in songs like “Aftershave Ocean”. Of course, that core Vaccine sound was still blatantly displayed on songs like “Teenage Icon” and “I Always Knew”. The album didn’t seem to quite know where it stood, the tonal inconsistencies and the reappearance of that typical sound made for what was overall, an OK album. That said, it was perhaps asking too much for them to have undergone a major change in direction only a year after their debut effort. This time there is no such excuse, three years after “Come of Age” we have “English Graffiti” will it be bubble-gum? Or will it be the redefining moment we have expected?

The singles they chose for releasing were very poor choices. Although it confirmed that the Vaccines can make some damn catchy indie tunes (which is something that they have excelled at throughout their career) it doesn’t show us their new and expanded musical pallet. The first single “Handsome” showed rather unsurprisingly that they can make these songs but hardly addressed the question above. Their second was somewhat more interesting, but hardly original. “Dream Lover” is straight out of Arctic Monkeys 2013 album “AM”. The highly distorted and simple riff is matched by the hip-hop-esque drumming. It seems like their definitely jumping on the “desert rock” bandwagon here but the verses have a touch of Arcade Fire in there. It’s anything but original, but it’s still pleasing on the ears.

More interesting is the 3rd track, “Minimal Affection”. A song laden with indie-electro pop with a Broken Bells edge to it and the guitar riff for the chorus is straight out of AM or even Casablancas’ solo album. “(All Afternoon) In Love” is a floaty laid back piano ballad, like a more up-beat Beck whilst “Denial” sees a far more blatant influence taken from Broken Bells. “Give Me A Sign” is straightforward pop song, but not in the way you’d think the Vaccines would go. This time they are incorporating some musical elements from the 80s (most notably with the lightly distorted guitar) and contemporary pop like One Direction. Yes, as bizarrely as this sounds it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary see one of Simon Cowell’s writers/producers come up with this song. “Undercover” feels like their token “arty” effort leaving a sophisticated 25 seconds of silence at the beginning before fading into what seems to be some guy just playing with the sliders on a big desk of buttons.

Core fans of that Vaccines sound have plenty to be satisfied about, “Handsome”, “Radio Bikini” and “20/20” (even if the last one sounds a wee bit more like Vampire Weekend) are typical of a sound that has long since bored me and suffers on anything more than a second listen. Fan service is important though. In short, the album is a great tribute act to any bands in the genre that are worth listening to in the last five or so years. The album is a great historiography for what contemporary “indie” music sounds like and is a great introduction for new listeners to “indie” music but is in no means a new start for music. Obviously, this is hugely frustrating for those of us who listen and love “indie” music anyway – it’s made me want to go listen to Broken Bells and Arcade Fire. You (like me) may will be racking your brain trying to think what their tracks sound (sometimes blatantly) and who (in most cases) does it better. If in twenty/thirty years your children ask you “Dad/Mum what did the 2010s sound like”, you can point them to this with ease. I’ll give the last words to the NME on this occasion (something I won’t be making a habit of), who aptly described it as “genre encompassing” rather than “genre defining” as Justin Young proclaimed it to be.

The Vaccines – English Graffiti = 7.5/10

Callum Christie   @ChristieCallum

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