WPGM Recommends: The Vaccines – English Graffiti (Album Review)

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Since their 2011 debut LP What Did You Expect From The Vaccines, and 2012’s follow up Come of Age, London quartet The Vaccines have cemented their position as fore-runners of the UK’s indie music scene. Sometimes hailed as the saviours of guitar music, there has always been a lot of pressure on Justin Young & co, and it has been interesting to watch their progression from ‘the next big thing’ to indie sensations and pioneers of the festival anthem. English Graffiti is the next step in their journey, and it’s looking to be quite some journey at that.

The influence of producer Dave Fridmann (Weezer, Tame Impala, Cribs) cannot be understated, and is immediately apparent on opening track “Handsome“. Whereas the previous two albums sounded raw and, dare I say basic, this one kicks off with a heavily produced sound, resulting in a much fuller feel overall. There is still that ‘old’ Vaccines energy, and Young’s lyrics are still as angst ridden and tongue in cheek as before, though perhaps more eloquent this time round, “I got so down, I held the world for ransom / Lonely, bored and dead, thank god I’m handsome”.

Any notion that this album would simply be a re-moulded repeat of the last two is promptly dispelled by the opening lines of “Dream Lover“, which will no doubt incite comparisons to the Arctic Monkeys latest work. These comparisons are not entirely ungrounded, and Fridmann’s manipulation of the simple riff is strikingly reminiscent of “Do I Wanna Know?”, however, on further inspection, this is much more than a mimic of fellow indie titans. There are submarine-like synths flying all over the place, and new drum sounds that take the band to previously uncharted territory. The result is a mighty wall of sound, accompanied by Young’s swooning lyrics, “with a hollow embrace / let’s go back to your place / uncover a lover you cannot replace”.

Minimal Affection” picks up where is predecessor left off. “You forget how to make a connection / when you’ve wanted one for so long” murmurs Young over a mash of synths that sound distinctly 80’s. “20/20” quickly shreds what chilled out atmosphere that the previous two songs worked to create, and is likely to become one of the most prominent songs on the album, with its classic Vaccines style chorus chanting, “I’m through thinking ‘bout you”. While the guitars and drums may be as hectic as ever, the lyrics show a thoughtful side to the band, particularly in lines like “hindsight sees in 20/20”, and perfectly usher in the next three songs, all of which are reflective of relationships, past and future.

When the Vaccines wheel out a piano, it’s clear that they’re getting serious. Indeed, “(All Afternoon) In Love” is beautifully melancholy in its portrayal of a broken relationship, and the pain is very apparent in Young’s vocals, complimented well by the band, with a slow drum beat and picked guitar lines that seem to bring everything into perspective all too suddenly.

Denial takes a different approach to break-up, and as the title suggests, refuses to accept the inevitable end. On perhaps the strongest song of the album, Dave Fridmann’s influence pops up again as the chorus bursts in with, “please don’t turn the light out / I don’t think the conversation’s over” sounding unassailably like the wonderfully psychedelic Tame Impala. Arni’s bass is modest but groovy, while the drums pound on incessantly and distortion on the guitars is cranked up through the roof.

In a continuation of the lovelorn phase of the album, “Want You So Bad” goes some way to accept the end, while by no means being happy with it. “So dress it up / because it’s a lot for me to handle” sings Justin, over reverb-heavy rhythm guitar and a finger picked lead that is sure to get feet tapping and eyes welling. “Radio Bikini” is a dramatic change in pace as the band dive head first into what Young calls an “ode to Holiday in Cambodia (The Dead Kennedys) and Radio Free Europe (REM)“. Back is the punk/surf inspired guitar licks and ferocious drums in a song that quite literally screams of the beach.

This intense track is chaotic but brief, and after just over two minutes the melancholy, chilled out mood is back in “Maybe I Could Hold You“, which Young believes shows “a different side to the band“. Again, comparisons will likely be made to a certain quartet from Sheffield, based on the understated choruses which boast some chilling harmonies and a fuzzy guitar that gradually escalates until complete euphoria is achieved. In what is perhaps the most obvious sign of maturity on the album, Young’s lyrics even get somewhat philosophical, “what is history / and what is in the future / does it matter now?”.

The last ‘proper’ song on the album “Give Me A Sign“, is unapologetically, though perhaps rather uncomfortably, poppy. There is the mellow acoustic guitar over a completely inoffensive drum beat, and then there’s the chorus which all too easily prompts images of Take That standing up from their stools in a midst of glitter and screaming middle-aged women. Poppy it may be, but there is little doubt that it will prove to be a sing-along favourite over the upcoming festival season.

Undercover” is a short instrumental that closes the album, and in many ways, it is a conclusion that sums up the album as a whole. Piano, synths and plucky guitars are all representative of the melancholic yet groovy attitude of this, the latest chapter in the story of the Vaccines. English Graffiti will be a new, and at times challenging experience for fans of The Vaccines, though there is certainly a greedy chunk of ear candy that will effortlessly keep everyone satisfied until the next album. English Graffiti is available now via Sony Music, purchase it here.

Words by Joe Sanger

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