Fans of straight-ahead indie rock have to make do with fairly slim mainstream pickings these days, the massive crossover success of Royal Blood being the exception rather than the rule. Three albums down the line, The Vaccines probably won’t be joining them at rock’s muscle-flexing arena-friendly top table – and neither, it seems, do they want to.
THE VACCINES: ENGLISH GRAFFITI
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With disarming honesty and a heap of self-awareness, frontman Justin Young has asserted that The Vaccines’ aim was to make an album that sounded amazing next year but terrible in a decade’s time – in other (less drastic) words, to appeal to their peers and not worry too much about posterity.
Although English Graffiti moves things on musically and broadens their sonic spectrum, it’s primarily about the kicks of a three-minute pop song. Even though The Vaccines are no longer the whippersnappers careering through songs with puppyish energy, they still gleefully stock up at the pick’n’mix of classic indie references.
Opening track Handsome is headlong gonzo punk pop, like a bubblegum Ramones with all the doubt and self-loathing inverted, as Young playfully checks his look in the mirror and thanks the Lord for his good looks.
At the other end of the album, the equally pacey Radio Bikini, a rollicking number about the nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll, riffs on The Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia.
So far, so familiar. But they can be just as effective when they apply the brakes and dig a bit deeper. Dream Lover makes it clear that they have heard the mighty AM by Arctic Monkeys and want to communicate a bit of that charismatic swagger and romantic ambivalence themselves. “Somewhere in the dark, I’ve got another dream lover,” professes Young, forging the strongest hook of the album.
Young has always been a likeable frontman – now he’s coming on as a singer too, swapping the foghorn yowling of old for some tasty falsetto vocals on the moody pop number Denial.
He is even confident enough to admit he’s attempting to be sexy on Want You So Bad. The track has a certain stealthy strut and Young does manage to sound more sultry than your average frontman of a no-frills indie group.
There are other carefree incursions into new territory. Minimal Affection and the more urgent, clamorous 20/20 flirt with the same new wave pop influences as the recent chiming output of The Strokes. (All Afternoon) In Love is a reasonable stab at a dreamy Beatley ballad which won’t give Beck any sleepless nights but provides a welcome change of pace on an album which offers up its diversity with a take-it-or-leave-it insouciance.