REVIEW | THE VACCINES – ENGLISH GRAFFITI (LP)
When The Vaccines blew the bloody doors off 2011 it was like everyone was 15 again, listening to rude and crude rock music about breaking shit and having sex with your best mate’s girlfriend. If mum didn’t like it, well she could piss off, because we were all sick of the slick clean indie rock that’d been tumbling out of the US and UK since Vampire Weekend’s debut changed the world in 2008. And songs like “Post Break-Up Sex” made everyone feel really cool and knowledgeable about heartbreak and apathy in a snide way championed by Justin Young’s growling vocals. The album title itself, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? is the best representation of the bands whole ethos at the time, “rock music for nobody and everybody”.
What Did You Expect from the Vaccines recaptured teenage angst better than in probably should have, with many tracks drawing from lonesome feelings of directionless anger and ambition in a perfect whirlwind of krautrock drum beats and riffs that sound like they were literally ripped out of the guitars.
Come of Age was the same thing again, so, understandably it was pretty much worse in every way. Justin even begins the album singing “I could bore you with the truth of an uneventful youth, but you could get that rap from someone else”, yeah we did Justin; it was you, in 2011. It’s 2012 and what’s changed? Nothing much, it seemed. Come of Age lived mostly through The Vaccines undeniable charisma, and played up their rockabilly riffage slightly more, allowing guitarist Freddie Cowan to breath outside of Young’s driving rhythm guitar.
So here we are, it’s English Graffiti, it’s 2015, and what do we expect from The Vaccines? Nothing like what we got. English Graffiti is as true a ‘moving on’ from a band’s past ethos as you could probably get in indie rock. Well, it’s no OK Computer to Kid A, but it’s certainly better than Come of Age.
Gone is the reliance on constant driving rock beats, and Young’s sneering delivery is dialled back enough so he actually has a go at different vocal deliveries, personas, and a theme other than spiteful. ‘Handsome’ is actually one of two songs that hark back to the old days on the album, so it’s slightly disingenuous to open the album with it, but hey, it’s still a great song. Packed full of personality and fuzzed out production, ‘Handsome’ is as much a lead single as they come, and next off the rank is the second single off the album ‘Dream Lover’.
‘Dream Lover’ is one of the albums biggest influences laid bare. Arctic Monkey’s AM pretty much conquered the world of UK rock, stealing it away from The Vaccines from most of 2013 and 2014. I can’t think of an album as huge as AM in recent memory and ‘Dream Lover’ steals its stomping sex-waltz riffing wholesale for its chorus. However, as much as I hate the prick, Alex Turner is god’s gift to rock vocals, and Young just sounds like another wailing front man in comparison.
‘Minimum Affection’ and ‘(All Afternoon) In Love’ are genuinely sweet detours from The Vaccines past attempts. ‘Minimum Affection’ being a bouncy rock disco tune and ‘In Love’ is a piano driven dreamer which is the best example of the new ideas on display in English Graffiti. There’s so much musical evolution here, but at the same time, The Vaccines lose their vocal infectiousness; there are no lyrics on English Graffiti you’ll scream out at a show, no ear worms, just well-considered rock music which you wouldn’t expect (unintentional) from a band like The Vaccines.
That is, until you get to ‘Radio Bikini’. ‘Radio Bikini’ is a fucking shit song and I can’t stand it. Whoever thought ‘Radio Bikini’ was a good idea must have thought that that Azealia Banks cover of ‘Nude Beach A-Go-Go’ was a good idea. Stay away from this song, it tries to be ‘Norgaard’ but fails miserably and somehow makes the songs situated around it worse. The final part of the album actually loses its lustre slightly regardless, everything slows down too much, but ‘Undercover’ is a nice little instrumental sign off.
English Graffiti gives me hope for The Vaccines. They’ve moved on from their unambitious sarcasm stage and are now actually trying new things. To see those things pay off in parts of English Graffiti is like looking at your smartass kid riding their bike without training wheels.
By Nicholas Kennedy / @nickkennedy