OF ALL the millstones a young band doesn’t want to be saddled with before they have released an album, or a single, or even played their first gig, the mission to save guitar music must weigh heaviest around the neck. Except for that once-in-a-generation band, or the delusionally cocky.
The Vaccines are neither of these things yet they became the anointed ones in 2011 mere months after forming in the full glare of the capital’s music industry.
It was a crazy long shot but, against the odds, they sort of pulled it off. The abiding impression that they were just a second division Strokes wielding a scrappy set of infectious, throwaway indie pop tunes was irrelevant to the up-coming generation of guitar-hungry music fans who didn’t care that they sounded quite like The Strokes because they were too young to have heard The Strokes first time round anyway. Afterwards, they heard The Strokes and realised what they were missing.
But still, The Vaccines were their year-zero guitar band, a short, sharp tonic to all that vile dance pop that had taken over the charts. In the absence of any other challengers, they catered to that basic need for good, old-fashioned teenage kicks with their cheekily titled debut album What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? and doggedly rose through the ranks using the time-honoured strategy of touring like demons. If you were mounting a gig in a field somewhere, The Vaccines were there on the bill. Festival by festival, they moved up the pecking order, their name got bigger on the posters, the crowds swelled. In the film they probably won’t make of their story, this would be the cue for a montage.
And now we come to the difficult second album, the one that should sound a lot like the successful debut album, only not as good, and comprise navel-gazing tales of touring woe, but mercifully doesn’t.
The Vaccines Come Of Age is another sardonically titled effort, but not without a kernel of truth as far as the band members are concerned. Because having swooped in to save indie music, The Vaccines now declare themselves a rock band. Singer Justin Young has ditched the preppy shoes, grown out his fringe and started wearing cut-off denim waistcoats. Just in case you haven’t got the message, he duly informs us that “I’m no teenage icon, I’m no Frankie Avalon”. Teenage Icon certainly aspires to produce a primitive rock’n’roll sound but the irony is that its prim and poppy execution creates more of a bubblegum indie rush, while the lyrics oscillate, in a typically teenage manner, between uncertainty and swagger.
The alleged new-found rock chops are not much in evidence elsewhere. Recent single No Hope only confirms their next-best-Strokes status with its catchy tune and insouciant momentum, while introducing the album’s theme that “it’s hard to come of age”. Although never as bleak in outlook as its title might suggest, lines such as “I don’t really care about anyone else when I haven’t got my whole life figured out” must be music to an adolescent fan’s ears.
All In Vain is a four-minute kiss-off, but its impact is diluted by its lack of direction. Young is handy with a melody but needs to be able to take it somewhere.
Guitarist Freddie Cowan is at least flexing his muscles a bit more, unleashing a major burst of Hank Marvin tremolo on I Always Knew, which boasts another eminently singalongable melody and some bonus “oh-oh-ohs” to resonate around those big venues on their autumn tour. Like Arctic Monkeys (the other band they are regularly unfavourably compared to), The Vaccines appear to be harking back to the early days of rock’n’roll for their inspiration.
Weirdo features some nice Duane Eddy-style guitar twang welded on to an apologetic indie ballad. Young’s vocal deficiencies actually enhance the whiney, sulky teenager lyrics as he confesses his personality defects: “I know that I’m neurotic... and I’m faulty by design”.
Cowan gets to be the guitar hero again with some tight, crunchy riffing on Bad Mood, a deliberately rough recording with a vaguely swampy feel. Ghost Town is no relation to The Specials’ classic, apart from some would-be ominous backing vocals, but an attempt to channel The Dead Kennedys’ demented rockabilly, only without the delirium which made that band so thrilling.
I Wish I Was A Girl confirms that Young has absolutely no idea what it’s like to be a girl. As the song proceeds, it becomes evident that his template for girlhood is closer to a supermodel. Nevertheless, in Young, The Vaccines have a songwriter with potential, whose talent may come to fruition by the time they release their third album, probably to be titled The Vaccines Sell Out.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
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