Album Review – English Graffiti / The Vaccines

IMG_1003Back in 2011, The Vaccines were actually an exciting act. Off the back of the ever catchy ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ and ‘If You Wanna’ singles, their first album had some decent moments, but also had some godawful songs, like ‘Wetsuit’ and ‘A Lack of Understanding’. This decent album was followed up by the especially bad ‘Come Of Age’. At this point, The Vaccines were being unseated as Radio 1’s ‘rock’ champions by the likes of the 1975 and Imagine Dragons. So, this ‘comeback’ record is designed to try and straddle the line between pop and indie-rock and for the most part, does that job pretty well. However, that’s all it does and fails to set the world on fire at the same time. English Graffiti, oddly enough, sounds quite similar to Angles-era Strokes, not exactly the era that leaps to mind as The Strokes best part of their career.

The album even does the same ‘amazing-single-anticipation’ as Angles did with ‘Under Cover Of Darkness’ in the form of ‘Dream Lover’, a fantastic pop song that was slow building and contained a humungous riff spookily close to ‘Do I Wanna Know?’. The song content, about another ‘dream lover’ when Justin Young, lead singer, ‘shuts his eyes’. The lyrical content of Vaccines songs has never really been above relationships beginning and ending and more than likely, the sleaze in between, ‘Dream Lover’ fails to divert from this path. For a pop song, it’s damn infectious though. The truth is, I find myself saying ‘for a pop song, it’s ok’ to defend the Vaccines a lot. I just don’t know if that’s a sound argument after three albums of ‘it’s ok’.

‘Minimal Affection’, the next song on the track listing, is reminiscent of a Two Door Cinema Club b-side. Behind glossy keyboards Young sings ‘moving on / we don’t have lot in common’. The guitars are unwelcome on the track, and this comes across way too often. Very often on these songs, a hyper-augmented riff will come sliding in and knock the song off balance. ‘Minimal Effection’ is like The Vaccines took The Strokes’ ‘Games’ and said ‘lets dilute this down a little bit and pass it off as some track fodder’ in between the arguably better ’20/20′ and ‘Dream Lover’. ’20/20′ is like an updated surf-rock tune where the obnoxious guitar is actually placed well with a sharp riff from some kind of arcade game and the chorus ‘I’m through thinking about you-oo-oo’ that is probably going to be in my head for the next week.

The best songs on English Graffiti are the ones I used to dislike on the old Vaccines’ albums. The group have managed to refine their slow-burners, from the nearly-great ‘All In White’ from What Did You Expect… to the excellent ‘Want You So Bad’ on English Graffiti. With a funky guitarline and the reverb-drenched vocals they float into dream-pop territory, before an acoustic guitar transcends into an almighty solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome, taking a cue from the early solos that weren’t so ear-piercing. Still, the lyrics are never going to be fantastic and I find myself returning to the phrase ‘it’s ok’ *altogether now* ‘for a pop song’.

The Vaccines are a dying breed of indie-poppers who emerged in the late 00s/early 10s but are being beaten to the number one hits by the reformed Arctic Monkeys and the *masquerading-as-rock-stars* 1975. This album resembles bits and pieces of the Strokes and AM-Arctic Monkeys and I don’t know why it’s so charming but I actually like it. It’s on par with What Did You Expect… stands on its own as a spin on the English-band-goes-to-America-album. It’s so British I half expected an Oasis ballad to pop out. The electronic flourishes are minimal, like on ‘Give Me A Sign’ and ‘Minimal Affection’ and they don’t go wild on production or instrumentation like a lot of bands might do. Apart from that, maybe its ok just say ‘it’s ok for a pop song’ because the Vaccines never pretended to be anything other than that. I’ll take them over any other Radio 1 ‘rock’ act any day.



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