Album Review: The Vaccines’ ‘English Graffiti’

The kings of UK indie are back!

Three years after the 2012 triumph ‘Come of Age’, The Vaccines are back – and they have a reputation to maintain.

A lot was expected from this album after its two superb predecessors placing the West London band at the forefront of the alternative music scene. The band return with an album which boasts a wide ranging sound palette. The question is: has it worked? The resounding answer is; no, not really!

The hype surrounding this record began with the release of the boisterous lead single and album opener ‘Handsome’, two minutes and forty one seconds of promise. ‘Handsome’ announces their return with a swagger unattainable by many other. However, this does not set the tone for the album. This record is a completely different sound to its predecessors. The Vaccines have entered new working territory – worked with Dave Fridmann & Cole M. Greif-Neill (formerly of Ariel Pink’s band Haunted Graffiti), whose influence is obvious. In the case of the latter this is in the form of ‘(All Afternoon) In Love’ which is the closest the Vaccines have ever gotten to a love ballad, and it’s a pretty poor one at that. In contrast, the darker ‘Maybe I Could Hold You’ works much better reactivating the listener towards the latter stage of the LP with its soft lick and questioning of what is the future?

Elsewhere on this LP, Young and co have moved away from their traditional ‘indie rock’ sound and started to investigate element of hip-hop and pop nowhere more evidence than on the upbeat 20/20 which would not sound out of place on a Vampire Weekend album.

The biggest issue with this album is that it seemingly has no structure, every song is different and nothing really fits together or flows. This fact is very evident about four songs in. Whilst my initial reaction on first listen condemns it as by far the worst of the Vaccines’ albums to date, perhaps this isn’t entirely fair; there is some truly fantastic material on this album. This album has three stand-out tracks. Firstly, the high point of this record and possibly the best Vaccines track to date, ‘Dream Lover’ – a darker piece of music than what we would expect from Young & Co with a series of incredible hooking riff. Secondly ‘Minimal Affection’, with its poppy beat, and thirdly, ‘Denial’ in all its wondrous lyrical irony. This is all compared to the fiasco, of course, that is ‘(This Afternoon) In Love’, at which point, I nearly stopped listening.

After the up and down roller coaster of the mid-section, which includes ‘Radio Bikini’, a throwback to WDYEFTV?, the album ends on something of a low note. ‘Give Me A Sign’ is but a ‘filler’ and ‘Undercover’ seems to be just two minutes of noise which, in fact, sent me to sleep.

The Vaccines need to figure out what direction it is they want to go in and perhaps simply take better care when choosing and ordering album tracks. Though there are songs of significant quality in this record, they are unfortunately let down by much weaker material. I still stand by my initial reaction that it is the worst of the Vaccines albums to date, but perhaps not by the distance I first thought.

The Vaccines will play ten dates UK in November 2015 and have numerous festival slots lined up for the forthcoming season including Worthy Farm and Latitude. Let’s hope Young and Co can produce a more consistent record next time round.

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