By Matt Starlight
Pull a random track from English Graffiti and you’d wonder what the hell happened to the blunt, pulsating garage rockers from London called the Vaccines that you used to know. With their third album, The Vaccines make it apparent that they’re a group of artists who aren’t content with doing things the same way year after year, and based on the cover art that just oozes attitude, they don’t seem to give a shit what you think about it.
The Vaccines come roaring right out of the gate with “Handsome.” A thumping bass line ushers us into some sputtering, mile-a-minute vocals that make for an unlikely introduction to what is soon to be an unexpected trip. It’s active, which is what we’ve come to expect from the Vaccines (get it?). The lyrics hark back to “Wish I Was a Girl” or “Teenage Icon” from their sophomore effort. It’s self obsessed, but insecure and honest, which is refreshing if you can manage to understand frontman Justin Young over the big, hooky chorus.
Next up is “Dream Lover.” Titanic synths bring us into a slow, wailing chorus that tries to either seduce or terrify whomever these intriguing lyrics are intended for. Synthesizers play a pivotal, yet surprising role, and the band seems to make interesting use of it as a gigantic undertone. Young belts out “somewhere in the dark / I got another dream lover” in the massive, amphitheater-aspiring chorus along with a rare moment of harmony from the rest of the members.
From here on, the tempos seem to change drastically and without predictability. The new, heavy emphasis on synths seem to take hold of the album for a modern day Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark-esque feel that actually works on a few different levels. The spacey, atmospheric nature of half of the tracks compliment the contemplative, melancholy lyrics that all seem to be about the demise of some relationship that had a huge impact on their lyricist. The other half carry on their short, but notable legacy of rock, but imagine those songs cast in a new light. Yes, this is the same Vaccines that blared through the speakers in 2011 and 2012, but their musical direction has obviously changed as they try to carve a new path for themselves. It’s impossible to say if this is their new arena-chasing identity or if it’s just a one album, Eurythmics-style experiment, but either way, they want you know to that there’s more under the surface.
Above all else, what’s striking about English Graffiti is the honesty that it demonstrates; however, it could be argued that these lyrical confessions are more of a sham than an unmasking. Personally, I’m inclined to buy what this record is selling, but either opinion would make sense. At the very least, it’s more of an attempt at honesty that their previous releases, which is nice in it’s own right.
Sure, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? and Come of Age had moments that could be mistaken for sincerity, but their driving force was the rebellious, throbbing indie rock. Now, The Vaccines are seemingly showing us a side of themselves that we haven’t seen before. This alleged vulnerability doesn’t seem destined for rock and roll stardom to me, but they’re hoping that channeling arena rock gods of the 80’s will have that effect anyway. This talented group exposes itself on the record and maybe enough people will like it for it to be a modern hit, but the underlying tone here seems to be an overwhelming desire to satisfy themselves first and you next, which is strange considering how vocal they’ve been about their desire to become mega-stars. Young was actually quoted by music site Gigwise as stating that “The Vaccines, we’ve done well and we’ve achieved a lot, but I want to be competing with the biggest and best artists in the world, like Kanye West or Beyonce.” A few tracks like “Dream Lover,” “Denial,” “20/20,” or “Handsome” may be primed for commercial success, but the rest seem more suited to the indie scene.
Whether or not you buy their sincerity is completely up to you, but with English Graffiti, their “Do You Wanna?” days seems to be a distant memory. The record is modern, and the band’s been quoted as hoping this album represents today’s youth, and in that respect, we’ll just have to wait and see if it takes. The Vaccines put their straight laced indie rock style behind them and picked up a synth in their attempt to redefine themselves and indie music as a whole. It’s not that they’ve got a new bone to pick or they’re selling out, but evolution is natural, and any band unwilling to give it a shot is destined for typecast boredom. Even if this new album isn’t your thing, you can’t help but be impressed with their willingness to put it all on the line in their reach for something new.