The Vaccines ‘English Graffiti’ – Review

6 Jun

What did you expect from The Vaccines? That is the question. Well, it was the question posed in the title of The Vaccines debut album and it’s the question that hangs over their new record as well. Do you expect them to be England’s next Arctic Monkeys or Coldplay, the young arena band for the connoisseurr? Do you expect them to make good on their early promise of short, mysterious lo-if records that mixed Suicide and Beach Boys influences? Do you just expect them to give a damn this time around after 2012’s apathetic, worn out and self defeating (though still stupidly catchy) ‘Come of Age?’

The Vaccines know your expectations, as a band crippled by self awareness. They know they are manufacturers of enjoyable, throwaway, pop punk but with their impressive knowledge of music history they know they will need to do more than that to leave legacy. They’ve wrestled with their limitations before, to no end. Reading the lyric sheet to ‘Come of Age’ was like listening to a one sided therapy session; even the upbeat singles had self loathing hooks like ‘I’m no teenage icon, I’m no Frankie Avalon’ and ‘there’s no hope.’ It’s no surprise that singer and main songwriter Justin Young had several breakdowns in the aftermath of that album.

Hyper ambition and crippling self doubt are not great bedfellows, and neither are particularly healthy when your band’s key strength is making simple, modest guitar pop. When they stick to what they do best the results on ‘English Graffiti’ are as brilliant as their early hits. Lead track ‘Handsome’ initially comes over racked with the same anxiety as the ‘Come of Age’ material But the chorus assures us that the tongue is now in cheek and seems to suggest that the album is going to be a little less of a downer than ‘Come of Age’, which is welcome. It’s a great little nugget of pop rock. Sharp, funny, melodic and fizzy, it sounds like The Vaccines of old but with a bit of a twist.

’20/20′ is another song in the mould of their debut; romantic yearning over the top of surf guitars, doo wop backing vocals and foot to the floor drumming. It’s as good as anything they’ve ever written. ‘Radio Bikini’ takes us back to their early demos, with a sweet melody paired with fuzzy distortion. The lyrics are nonsense but it works. The band are wholly less successful when they venture in to new territory. You get the impression that they want to sound nothing like The Vaccines as you know them, which might be a credible ambition depending on your perspective. Disappointingly though they fail to establish any kind of new identity, they merely sound like imitators of other distinctive bands.

Justin decried journalists who have pointed out the similarities between their own ‘Dream Lover’ and Arctic monkeys ‘Do I Wanna Know’, calling it a lazy comparison. Well sorry, lazy it may be but it’s also brain crushingly obvious and transparent that the two songs are similar in both tone and ambition. ‘Dream Lover’ is an inferior imitation with watery vocals, bland lyrics and none of the sexiness. ‘Give Me a Sign’ is EDM as interpreted by people who have never set foot on a dance floor and ‘All Afternoon in Love’ is lounge pop imagined by people who have read about it on Wikipedia. At least these songs are enjoyable and somewhat memorable, which is more than can be said for bland and monotonous tracks like ‘Denial’ and ‘I want you so bad’ which are somehow both undercooked and frazzled – weak vocals, anaemic baselines and flimsy melodies combined with a sledgehammer production that is entirely exhausting.

‘We wanted to make an album that sounds great now and awful in ten years time.’ This is another fine, if slightly cynical ambition. What they’ve failed to do on the whole is make music that sounds good now, let alone in ten years time. Contemporary Pop was obviously their primary influence but these sunburnt soundscapes (the mixes sound horribly compressed) are a world away from the light footed and bouncy sounds being produced by the likes of Max Martin. You can forgive the production being a failure as it’s an ambitious and experimental failure. What is less easy to forgive is the monotonous and bland songwriting that sleeps below the production half the time. That’s one thing I never would have expected from The Vaccines..



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