The Vaccines – ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’

A British equivalent to 'Is This It'?

Sorry [a]The Vaccines[/a], can we start over? I think we got off on the wrong foot. For a start there was all this stuff about you being posher than a royal wedding. Supposedly guitarist Freddie Cowan is so toffee-nosed he’s 14th in line to the throne and gets carried to gigs on a sedan chair. And then there’s the fact that you have zero offstage charisma. No Hammer Of The Gods-style rock’n’roll excess for you: one recent interviewer found you backstage sipping fruit tea.

But hang on. Aren’t we being a bit harsh? I’ve already heard [a]The Vaccines[/a] described as a “guilty pleasure”. Why? Are indie rock’n’roll bands so endangered now that liking one is a furtive act, like masturbating or watching Take Me Out? Mention you like [a]The Vaccines[/a] around some people and it’s like you’ve crept into their bedroom and curled one out in their sock drawer, when all you’ve done is express affection for a band with some self-evidently excellent tunes.

Their debut album will blast away that cynicism, because it’s just too damn good to be sniffy about. It bristles with the unerring ease and confidence that all the best debuts possess. You sense it in the way ‘If You Wanna’ opens with a shotgun drum intro that recalls ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’; ‘Blow It Up’ works with the simplest of materials – just three glassy guitar notes – and ascends until singer Justin Young’s voice shreds with the effort.

But this is more than just galloping indie-disco fodder. There’s a deep well of gloom to Young’s baritone croon that belies his clod-hopping onstage demeanour. Songs like ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ and ‘A Lack Of Understanding’ (“I’ve got too much time on my hands/But you don’t understand”) brood on the futility of casual relationships. There’s something quite Morrissey-like about the way he sings about sex, as though it’s an alien world.

Admittedly, [a]The Vaccines[/a]’ songs aren’t really about very much, and when they are, the subject matter is a bit gauche (all that stuff on ‘Norgaard’ about fancying a girl who’s 17 and “probably not ready” – it’s mildly creepy). Nuance is not really their thing. Their songs all use the same three chords. But, to resurrect an old punk cliché, they’re the right chords.

In fact, [a]The Vaccines[/a] wear their generic-ness with pride. That’s why they called the album ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’. No new ground is being broken , but when did a British band last deliver a debut with such a hit rate? It has a rattle-them-off, fire-and-reload quality that recalls [a]The Strokes[/a]’ ‘Is This It’. Indeed, it’s not completely insane to regard this album as a British equivalent.

Not because it will inspire a generation of bands and ‘change everything’ – let’s face it: a revolution like that may never happen again – but because it’s the work of a band who in theory push all the wrong buttons: they’re posh, their singer lurches about like Frankenstein’s monster, they have nothing to say in interviews – but who are redeemed by the simple brilliance of their songs.

[a]The Vaccines[/a]’ debut does a wonderful thing – it reminds you that guitar music still works. Hurtling Libs-y choruses can still alter your body chemistry, make you want to wade recklessly into a moshpit, chase a girl, shove your best friend round a dancefloor. It’s the sound of youth. It’s not shameful or old hat, or worn out or exhausted. It’s indie rock, and [a]The Vaccines[/a] do it better than any young British band has done in years.

Luke Lewis


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