A subtle update of their sound
There are two fundamental points central to fully appreciating ‘The Vaccines Come Of Age’. Firstly, that Justin, Freddie, Arni and Pete have only been a band for little over two years. Secondly, that they’ve already pumped out two records in this relatively short period of time.
Back in the ’60s it was perfectly normal for bands to dish up albums at a rate of knots. The Beatles managed two full LPs per year, plus all manner of compilations and singles, for almost the entirety of their career. The Beach Boys, meanwhile, once managed a whopping four in 370 days. Not every one was bona fide gold-dust, true, but it meant you saw a band progressing in front of you, honing their craft and showing almost every ounce of what they had to offer. Sure, there’s merit to selectively showing the peaks of your arsenal and offering up a kind of Best Of of your last two or three years’ writing. But with music digested and spat out more speedily than ever, surely it makes more sense to be as prolific as you possibly can?
‘…Come Of Age’, then, is not perfect, but it’s a damn fine specimen of a band on the way to something great. As is to be expected with a group still essentially in its formative stages, it teeters into new, unexpected ground and tests the water. Yet, truly, there’s nothing forced or awkward here; all of The Vaccines’ new sonic preoccupations are clearly born from another 18 months’ experience rather than any designs on stadium-filling or credibility-swinging grandeur.
Take current live favourite ‘Bad Mood’, for example. It’s a taut mosh-inducer that takes about four seconds to lock into your brain and take root there. It takes everything you’d expect from The Vaccines and whittles it down into something harsher, sleeker and better, and it’s probably the most concise example yet of what the band are capable of.
Despite exploring many more tangents than their previous, mainline-hitting offering, there’s still a central simplicity to the quartet’s second effort. Where ‘What Did You Expect…’ shagged the bare bones of indie rock, taking its cues from three-chord wallops, ‘…Come Of Age’ upscales melodically yet still maintains (in Justin’s words) a kind of throwaway appeal. ‘Ghost Town’, which skanks along on ominous basslines and pushes the guitars to the background, has a completely different atmosphere to anything the band have done before, yet the lyrics essentially mean nothing. “No-one’s about and it’s kind of creepy/It’s a big mistake when they say it’s sleepy” rumbles Justin, like the narrator from Funny Bones. It would be easy to criticise, but what would be the point? The Vaccines have never staked any claims to being deep.
There are moments, in the mildly embittered croon of ‘I Wish I Was A Girl’ (“Life is easy when you’re easy on the eye”) or beneath the deceptively perky riffs of ‘Teenage Icon’ (“I’m not magnetic or mythical/ I’m suburban and typical”) where the singer is clearly addressing topics closer to the heart than fancying models and ill-advised fumbles beneath the sheets, but the record’s peaks lie in the band’s increasingly skilful way around a melody. ‘Aftershave Ocean’ and ‘All In Vain’ make for the biggest surprises – lush and nostalgically sweet, they prove that The Vaccines can still write a killer hook without necessarily firing on all cylinders. ‘Weirdo’, meanwhile, is an introverted, almost grunge-tinged slow-burner.
Like anyone in their adolescence, The Vaccines are still evolving and finding out who they really are. But ‘…Come Of Age’ breezes through their awkward teenage phase with ease.