Unlike other such bands of recent times who likewise found themselves riding an avalanche of wellspring adulation and popularity overnight, the NME-hype zeitgeist has yet to be fully wrested away from the grasp of The Vaccines, a band whose celebrated arrival onto the scene last year drew comparisons with The Strokes and the Arctic Monkeys for the sheer scale of anticipation that was bestowed upon them.
Well, within Britain at least.
Headlines such as ‘the return of the great British guitar band’, and ‘the hottest group in the world’ aren’t exactly things that are thrown around in jest.
But taking on the press camadarie with a cheeky sense of humour and a collection of surprisingly catchy anthems to boot, The Vaccines excelled and flourished on the groundswell of hype around them, making a debut album that reminded us why reinventing the past isn’t a bad thing, and why sometimes pure and primal rock n roll is all that’s needed to have a good time.
But where does that take them? Momentum is a function of success, and so following up ‘What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?‘ with another reckless collection of songs quickly was always going to be crucial for the band’s long-term ambitions. So will they feed the hype machine and ascend to even greater heights? Or will they destroy their good fortune altogether?
‘The Vaccines Come of Age‘, an adept title that perhaps hints at some sense of progression and expansion on their previous work, has already shot straight to number one in Britain, and is making waves elsewhere as one of the most hastily anticipated albums of the year. But that precariously difficult second album – an epidemic that has seen many overnight indie sensations over the past decade shoot themselves in the foot, causing them to fall into a hapless void of no return – is something that might threaten The Vaccines empire, bringing their freeform three-chord rock n roll agenda into serious disarray.
Tried and tested relationship themes glimmer on first single ‘No Hope’, a lethargic and energy-sapped tune that jostles by with only a fraction of the aggression displayed on the first album. Its calling card is a catchy-enough chorus hook line that gets by without any help or support from the lazy lyrics on show (‘I don’t care about anyone else when I haven’t got my own life figured out’). Lyrical depth has never been one of singer Justin Young’s strengths, but at least lines like ‘Post break-up sex helps you forget your ex’ from the first album were sung convincingly and tellingly; on ‘…Come of Age’ there doesn’t seem to be any drive behind the words, anything that convinces us as to why we should look past such things.
It begins to feel as though The Vaccines were commissioned to make a Vaccines album, taking on the challenge as if it were a municipal day job. But the Jarvis Cocker-like timbre of ‘I Always Knew’ offers a welcome change of direction. A promising departure from the standard Vaccines fare, it houses swirling guitars and baritone vocals that burst into a sweet and unworldly chorus halfway through. Strangely satisfying, and like nothing else the four piece have offered up before.
Elsewhere, ‘Teenage Icon’, already a well-known staple of the band’s live sets, chugs along a catchy hook line but barely traverses any uncharted terrain. In some parts, it seems as though Young’s voice can barely carry any charisma or character. Whilst he found an inspired formula on the first album that sounded both ragged and sweet, on ‘…Come of Age’ such versatility seems to have all but vanished. ‘Ghost Town’ likewise sounds as if the band are running on batteries. Has the milk dried up already? Has their time in the sun been and gone?
‘Aftershave Ocean’ and ‘Weirdo’ suggest not. Two gems that sound a world away from anything on the first album; they are driven by morose vibes that meld in and out of compelling bass lines and dark lyrical themes. The latter embraces blunt dissatisfaction and empathy as Young sings of a girl he yearns for, whilst detailing all of the reasons she should not be with him (I know I’m fucking moody, and I know I’m quite unkind). Having nowhere else to turn, Young simply states it how it is (I don’t want to let it go; you know I’m not a weirdo). It’s to the point and it’s eerily convincing – in a Morrissey kind of way.
Later on in the album, ‘A Change of Heart Pt 2’ bristles along its happy-go-lucky structure without turning too many eyeballs, whilst ‘I Wish I Was a Girl’ sounds like a downright strange confession from someone who usually has barely anything to say. Conceding himself to his femme desires, Young sings ‘You walk into the room with refine and poise; bewitching, enthralling all of the boys’ and then unashamedly reveals how he wants to be one of them. At this stage of the album though, it’s no wonder Young is looking for anything to holler about – anyone would get tired of his Neolithic courtship methods, not the least the man himself.
But thankfully, album closer ‘Lonely World’ offers a welcome recluse. A much more compelling selection than ‘What Did You Expect’s closer ‘Family Friend’, here the band reach out towards the apocalypse, only to proclaim with an aching declaration that loneliness is all that apparently awaits us at the end of the tunnel. A choral climax brings the song to a halt with a convincing and powerful air left in the wake of the guitars and reverberated vocals.
The Vaccines are better at pulling melodies and riffs out of nowhere than most, but here they seem barely as inspired as they were at the same time last year. This isn’t a bad album, it holds variety, it holds tonnes of hooks and it is balanced in a cohesive and equal measure. But it just doesn’t quite create or evoke the spontaneity or relentless aggression of the first album. It was a recipe that was formed so perfectly and perhaps The Vaccines have run out of steam, perhaps they have lost the excitement and buzz that made them so appealing in the first place.
It’s only a simple thing, but in the corroded and harsh world of rock and roll, perhaps buzz is everything.