The Vaccines, English Graffiti, Columbia, 2015 – Album Review

VACCINES_ENG_GRAF_ART_600 StarsWords: Carrie Taylor
Album cover ©Columbia Records

Last month, London four-piece The Vaccines dropped their first full length record, English Graffiti, since sophomore album ‘Come Of Age’ in 2012, and marks a drastic change in the group’s approach to music. 2014’s ‘Melody Calling’ EP surprised fans with its soft, melodic sounds so far removed from the raucous guitar and deep vocals that we had come to know and love, and new release English Graffiti is even less resemblant of the band who built themselves on catchy, overdriven riffs and angsty lyrics.

Having repeatedly expressed frustration at the confinement resulting from being prescribed the ‘timeless rock-n-roll’ label, English Graffiti sees The Vaccines finally do away with expectations and playing by the rules as the synth-heavy album races sporadically through a number of genres.

The vaccine illustration

The glossier production of the album is evident from the get-go, with uplifting single ‘Handsome’ opening and making for a frantic start to an album that doesn’t quite succeed in climbing back up to the raw energy and joy captured in this track through animated vocals and an irresistible clapped beat surrounded by simple, jangly guitar riffs. The album explores as many decades as it does genres, with ‘Dream Lover’ hypnotically sweeping us back into the 70s and 80s with its drawling vocals, slow but hard-hitting drum beats and power chords, and techno effects that create a space like atmosphere. Justin Young’s vocals have clearly undergone much development, with tracks like ’20/20’ and ‘(All Afternoon) In Love’ displaying a near flawless and completely different voice to what can be heard on the band’s first two albums. The latter tune, despite its romance and soothing vocals, is a little dreary, and ‘Denial’, while initially catchy, also grows somewhat tedious.

The album quickly regains its allure with what may be the band’s most sensual release to date, ‘Want You So Bad,’ which Young has described as being his “best attempt at sounding sexy”. ‘Give Me A Sign’ is the their most blatantly and unapologetically pop song to date, and precedes album closer ‘Undercover’; an intricate and digital sounding instrumental, which acts almost as a reprise, ending the record on a peaceful, reflective note.

Somehow managing to move seamlessly between soaring pop tunes, timeless surfy tunes, and downbeat, melodic numbers, English Graffiti is an eclectic mix of old and new that proves The Vaccines have far more to them than 3-chord rock anthems. While I suspect that many fans will fail to develop the same attachment to English Graffiti as they did to the band’s previous albums, this album captures the maturity, soul, and diversity that ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ and ‘Come of Age’ lacked.

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