Music Reviews
English Graffiti

The Vaccines English Graffiti

(Columbia) Rating - 5/10

The Vaccines have always been completely bereft of irony. They first introduced themselves as a band of snotty pub rockers whose oversimplified anthems qualified them as good candidates to write the next Teenage Kicks. Cheekily brash and unwisely confident in the way young people can be, they juggled around themes with just the right amount of PG-13 edge to cause a commotion - they ruminated on the advantages and disadvantages of post break-up sex in sing-a-long fashion, cleverly positioned rhyming schemes of canonical writers with that good ol’ macho adage of picking up a chick at a bar, and simply cried out the advantages of trippin’ out for the weekend instead of worrying about relationships. This may very be the perfect introduction to a band that didn’t mind embracing the “guitar band” stigma that followed them, plus it didn’t hurt that the tunes were likable, albeit predictably so, notwithstanding the fact that they better suit, if only, a limited age bracket.

Perfectly aware of this potential problem, they clearly stated that they had "come of age" on their follow-up after introducing themselves with cocky self-directness. The grungier, though still sentimental-in-the-seams Come of Age was another exercise in post-Strokes guitar mimicry with one too many slow songs to please the folks over at Sony. They also sounded a little bit bored, and a little bit moodier, a smokescreen distraction to cover up a lack of songwriting acumen with blank-faced, hard-eyed cool. Coming back just as they were about to become forgotten, the band continue their quasi-surf rock dynamics as singer Justin Hayward-Young thanks his good looks in Handsome, an impermeable attribute that should protect him out of all harm.

So far, so Vaccines. Except that Young hasn’t learned a single thing in five years other than his newfound skill of tallying the women he’s slept with: the smooth, blues-soaked pompousness of Dream Lover means to bring a saw-toothed texture to the MOR romanticism of Peter Cetera, though his deceiving invite back home sounds more misogynistic than dutifully tender: “With a hollow embrace/ let’s go back to your place/ Uncover the love you cannot replace”. Its greatest achievement is bringing back the pre-chorus to a whole new generation, an old standard that plagued eighties radio airwaves and Kabel typeface-VH1 before it deemed itself as Music First. Young has always been the focal point of The Vaccines to an extent, though there’s no way to logically comprehend how going in retrograde could possibly benefit the band as a whole except volumizing their hair in music videos with Aqua Net.

Enlisting veteran Dave Friedmann to produce English Graffiti instantly brings an air of skepticism to the proceedings, and though recent efforts have proven he’s acclimated more with the artist’s essence instead of marring it with his pellucid, widescreen techniques (Spoon’s They Want My Soul comes to mind), working with the Vaccines has found him going back to experimental mode. Futile attempts at quickening the pace are evident in 20/20, a light dance-pop number with a rhythm section taken straight out of Kenny Loggins’s Footloose that, once again, repurposes fifties rock n’ roll with frothy production elements. The terribly uninspired I Want You So Bad may have been the band’s own wrongdoing, as there’s no compelling reason for Young’s unrequited love to come back when his soft-spoken singing is sunk in dullness, though add some guitar histrionics and a funk groove in lockstep and you’ve got yourself a misguided attempt at trying to make them fit a more contemporary kind of cool.

And in all fairness, The Vacciness did the three chord, lad rock routine better than any of their contemporaries. It’s not to say that English Graffiti is musically incompetent, though their impulse to borrow eighties nostalgia is more akin to that of perusing your relative’s baby boomer collection instead of following your cool uncle’s guidance. It doesn’t help that much of the lyrical content falls on juvenile romantic puree, the kind you’d write to yourself while picking petals off a flower. Young made a point about wanting to write a record that sounds relevant now even if it runs the risk of aging terribly, trying to link a chain between the old and the new, but most of the album is already rooted in a bygone era that is currently going through an odd transmigratory period. There’s no use trying to catch up with the past, but if it’s any consolation to them, there’s still the possibility of it sounding any good in a decade’s worth. Because you just don’t know with trends.