The Vaccines ‘Come of Age’ – Review

10 Sep

What did you expect from The Vaccines? That was the question posed by the band when they titled their debut album last year. Expectations ranged from the hyperbolic, to the pessimistic; they were either the best new band since The Strokes or the most overhyped since, well, The Strokes. As I commented in my review of that album, hype and mystery surrounding new bands is no bad thing, in fact in the twitter age we live in, where every piece of information is made available and instantly dissected, it’s essential. When a band like The Vaccines get hyped it reminds me that music fans in 2012 aren’t always as passive as I sometimes imagine. When the band shroud themselves in mystery it reminds me that not everything in life is available at the tips of our fingers.

When The Vaccines emerged in 2010 I found it impossible to find photos or videos of them, to begin with all I had was the music; ‘Wreckin Bar’ and ‘If You Wanna’, which, when played back to back, came in at under three minutes but repeated for hours upon hours in my head. The less I was able to find out, the more I wanted to know. Who exactly were The Vaccines and what else did they have up their sleeve? The mystery and intrigue that surrounded them was something of a red herring, because essentially The Vaccines were, and are now even more so, a pop band with populist ambitions. They were never destined to stay in the shadows for long. Most songs on that debut straddled the same three chords, most dealt with being young and in love/lust, most came in under 2 and a half minutes. This was a band that played by long-established rules but did an excellent job of sounding new and exciting.

As if to compensate for the initial lack of information, by the end of 2011 The Vaccines were EVERYWHERE. They released six singles from the debut, one a double A-side with new track ‘Tiger Blood’, and all featuring brand new b-sides. A live album was released on Record Store Day (a second live album makes up the second disc on the deluxe edition of the new album) and an e.p has just been released featuring several cover versions of obscure punk songs (and ABBA). They’ve been on a never-ending tour since October 2010 which has included support slots for The Stone Roses, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire and Noel Gallagher. Over this time period they’ve been just about the only young rock group Radio 1 will touch, and turn on E4 at any given point and your sure to hear one of their songs soundtracking one tacky docu-soap or another. All this begs the question; are we ready for The Vaccines to return already? Is It a case of too much too soon? Or are they just using that momentum to build something even more special?

Here’s the dilemma; The Vaccines have been very busy, and in many ways ‘Come of Age’ is a product of that busyness. It sounds live and energetic, as if the band have literally just stepped off stage and entered the studio. The production is beefier than on the debut but the songs are still skeletal in comparison to a lot of contemporary indie rock. They sound like they were written and recorded in the space of a few hours, which pays off at times but occasionally these tracks feel underdone or not thought through with enough consideration. Surely if they had thought about it for long enough, they would have realised it was a dire decision to basically remake The Specials classic ‘Ghost Town’ as a fairground ride pastiche, or to write a song with the title ‘I Wish I was a Girl’? Their enthusiasm is charming, and in this day and age rare, but I cringe at some of their decisions here.

Overall though this is a solid second album, and the band’s impressive songwriting talent makes up for most shortcomings. Whilst it can’t top the debut, the band certainly haven’t suffered the second album dip that is so common. In every sense this is a more confident and ambitious record. The debut was dipped in reverb but ‘Come of Age’ is crisp, clear and dynamic. Every single band member sounds like a better musician, Freddie’s riffs are now noticeably thicker, Arni’s confident basslines are pushed  high in the mix and Pete’s drumming stretches him in all directions. Justin’s singing, which was noticeably restrained and polite on the debut, is now brimming with the personality it’s always exuded on stage. The melodies are usually straightforward but he knows this, and his singing is playful and expressive.

Whether the album’s considerably longer running time is down to this new-found confidence, I’m not sure I could say. Whilst you can appreciate the addition of longer fade outs and extended solos, I rather think it takes more confidence to let a song run in one and a half minutes rather than four, the length of first single ‘No Hope’. Most of these songs feel a chorus or two too long, whilst ‘Weirdo’ strains to the five minute mark without a hook or a chorus built to run that distance. Lets not forget that the double punch of ‘Wreckin Bar’ / ‘If You Wanna’ was done and dusted in three minutes, and nothing on here comes close to matching those songs.

‘Teenage Icon’ is the most instantly likeable song on ‘Come of Age’, it has the kind of infectious chorus that reminds you why the group won plaudits in the first place. Lyrically it follows the album’s main template of strangely defeatist, self-absorbed soundbites that are at odds with the new musical confidence. Over the course of the album, and several songs, Justin reveals that he’s ‘self absorbed’, ‘moody’, ‘unkind’, ‘apathetic’, ‘controlling’, ‘hard to please’, and ‘no teenage icon’. It’s not hard to see why he concludes there’s ‘no hope’ before the album’s reached its second verse. I  liked the cohesion and directness of the debut’s lyrics, here though Justin walks off in several directions, some of them embarrassingly oversimplified, some of them just plain uninteresting. ‘Teenage Icon’ is far too self aware, whilst ‘Bad Mood’, despite almost inexplicably winning me over, has more clunkers than you would think possible. In conclusion then Justin is in much better territory singing about the most simple, most primal emotions rather than his flaws and shortcomings. This is why songs like ‘All In Vain’ and ‘I always knew’, with its simple refrain of ‘It’s you, oh it’s always you, I always knew, It’s you’ work best.

My favourite song on the album is ‘Aftershave Ocean’, and perhaps that’s because it is the song that most creatively combines what was great about their debut with something genuinely innovative (by their standards). Justin is singing in a higher register, the chorus has imaginative harmonies, Freddie’s spluttering guitar actually sounds like it’s going to be sick during the solo. The chorus is pure Ringo Star/ Octopus’s Garden. I see the band’s future in a song like this (and I glimpse it in bursts across the album; the acoustic guitar in ‘I Always Knew’, the bridge in ‘All In Vain’, the restraint displayed in ‘Weirdo’) rather than the songs that rehash past glories, as wonderful and catchy as they may be. And that has to be my conclusion; The Vaccines have a bright future ahead



2 Responses to “The Vaccines ‘Come of Age’ – Review”

  1. hoowitt September 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    …I didn’t like. Very substandard effort comparing to ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’. I wrote a review too,, what do you think?

  2. Elyse Howdershell October 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Love this album! Have you checked out the vid for “No Hope” ? It’s amazing! You can check it out here:

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