“The only thing worse than being talked about,” to lazily begin with an Oscar Wilde quote, “is not being talked about.” Or in the case of The Vaccines, being talked about too much. Their 2011 debut, while warmly received, fell short of the ‘Album of the Year!’ ballyhoo that early previews led many to believe. At best, some saw their failure to break wider audiences a disappointment. Others sceptically labelled them a misfire, pretenders to the indie-rock throne. Although they have yet to achieve world domination, The Vaccines have always maintained a consistently good quality and continue the momentum on their third outing. The difference now is a change to a more self-assured swagger in the songwriting that charms the listener in ways previous albums haven’t.
The first hint of this change of attitude is, of all places, their album cover. Gone are the pouting, prepubescent-looking models of their first two albums. Now we have the band front and centre, drinking, lead singer Jay Jay Pistolet sticking his tongue out, and if you look hard enough, a smirk. This perspective carries into their opening trio of songs; fun, grandiose hooks that pay little attention to maintaining any previous stilted indie credo. This is most obvious in their lead single ‘Handsome’ which sounds like The Vaccines parodying The Vaccines. The chorus “I got so down I held the world to ransom… thank God I’m handsome” works like a sly turn to the camera, reassuring us they’re fully aware of what they are to many people and the artsy-indie shadow they need to escape.
Helping them on their way is producer Dave Fridmann, who worked previously with the likes of Flaming Lips and MGMT. His influence results in a far more diverse sound on this album than the others previous; ‘Minimal Affection’ has the likeable indie-electro feel of an early Strokes record, while ‘(All Afternoon) In Love’ and ‘Want You So Bad’ may be mistaken for lesser-heard Blur tracks. Nonetheless, nothing sounds like an impression. Perhaps Fridmann may also take credit for a more elegant energy through the album. Whereas the earlier albums would almost emergency brake into quieter songs, this album has a more gentle descent in tempo for the gentler melodies.
Overall, the songs on English Graffiti are a pleasant move away from our previous notions of what this band is capable of. The only exception to this is ‘Give Me a Sign,’ the penultimate closer that verges too far into ’80s power rock. Granted it has a cheesy charm to it, but after nine tracks of pigeonhole-busting it’s disappointing to hear them play to the arena-rock crowd.
The Vaccines may have missed their chance to be The Next Best Thing, but neither are they resigning themselves to become yesterday’s news. These songs show a more assured identity than the band that released an album a year after it formed. At last, this may be the record to quieten the remaining anti-vaccers.