Come of Age – The Vaccines (review)

So, The Vaccines come of age…if the title of their second album can be believed. Before the record even rests on the turntable, one has to wonder if the West London four-piece are being ironic. By putting a quartet of androgynous street urchins on the cover – one representing each member of the band – the initial impression is that one can expect another burst of frantic garage punk and 50′s influenced rock ‘n’ roll rather than a more studied, progressive approach. Surely a portrait of a more serious, world-weary band would convey a coming of age… But maybe that’s the whole point.

The Vaccines are a conundrum; a modern, youthful rock band which encapsulates the zeitgeist but one bent on ignoring contemporary trends by shamelessly wearing their retro influences on their rolled-up sleeves. It was their revivalism that contributed much to the success of debut album What Did You Expect from The Vaccines; in a pop world increasingly unsure of its 21st Century persona, The Vaccines ignored the identity crisis many band’s were going through to define their own era by embracing and presenting that of their parents while giving it a modern twist. The effect was like dropping the flag on a James Dean road-race, a bequiffed burst of leather-clad adrenaline. All of which explains the initial misgivings when Come of Age opens with what appears to be a Libertines cast-off.

The title “No Hope” would be prophetic should this Doherty-by-numbers effort be the standard for the rest of Come of Age but thankfully, it is an anomaly – albeit an uplifting and catchy one – which is soon forgotten. By track two we are back in familiar Vaccines territory although it becomes quickly apparent that things have changed here. Amongst Pete Robertson’s reassuringly skittish drums and Freddie Cowan’s rockabilly riffs, tethered to the earth by Arni Arnason’s hugely underrated bass, there’s a richness to the familiarity. The low-fi production of their debut has been replaced by an expansive sound which gives all the components room to prosper but restraint at the control desk has allowed the shallow, DIY depth of the original to be retained. This is a better recording but one which remains lithe, angular and urgent.

The other factor taking the original sound to new levels is Justin Young’s voice. Three throat operations in nine months during 2011 have not only cured the singer’s vocal problems but has given his voice a greater resonance, wider range and Young himself the confidence to try new and exciting things with his instrument. One minute he’s Lennon in his post-Beatles return to teddy boy tendencies, the next swaggering like Jagger in his wasted 70s pomp, at others crooning as sweetly as Rick Nelson wandering the streets of Lonesome Town. If Young has found his voice and feet, the band seem more assured too. While there are few songs that stray too far from their safety net, when they do stray from the well-trodden path, they are exhilarating and brave in more the exploration of new terrain. The heart of Come of Age is what one could call classic Vaccines, an unabashed experiment in homage with lyrics about disaffected youth, lost love and yearning, but it is the risks taken and the boundaries pushed which suggest that these guys are not one-trick ponies and that while they will always have an obvious touchstone, there is every chance that they will move further away from that in time to create something truly their own. This record is an assured step towards that future.

Commendations

Once initial concerns over the band’s turn of direction and potential lack of imagination subside after the opening track, Come of Age begins to deliver its promise in spades. “I Always Knew” rumbles in like The Tornados’ “Telstar” on speed. The rattling, railroad drums build under Cowan’s twanging strings, while Young applies vibrato to a soaring vocal which gives this tale of love a boost of the heart-felt and theatrical. “Teenage Icon” then swaggers in, all tribal rhythms and urgent guitars, bulging with the conviction that mosh-pits around the world will seethe in its presence. Shrugging off the adoration, Young sings: “I’m no teenage icon, I’m no Frankie Avalon, I’m nobody’s hero…” in a rollicking Smiths-esque rejection of idolatry.

The beautifully paced and delivered “All in Vain” channels John Lennon revisiting his rockabilly roots post-Fab Four and displays Young’s new, confident range. It’s an anthemic, chugging sing-a-long which will have crowds swaying. Just when things are getting too upbeat, “Ghost Town” speeds past like the Cramps in a souped-up hot rod driving foot-to-the-floor through a haunted forest, pursued by Scooby Doo ghouls. It’s fun and throwaway – and a perfect segue to the luminous “Aftershave Ocean.” Play this to someone out of context and they may say it’s Pavement, perhaps Yo La Tengo or even Thurston Moore in a happier moment; it’s the most un-Vaccines song on the album and if it’s evidence of the direction in which they may be heading, it’ll be a most welcome one. “Weirdo” then reminds you that this is The Vaccines after all. A skeletal 50′s reverbed guitar echoes behind Justin Young as he muses about his weaknesses in a song reminiscent of What Did You Expect‘s “All in White.” One of the most surprising diversions comes when the frantic “Bad Mood” kicks in on a high-tempo Black Sabbath riff, sounding like Ozzy’s Iron Man on amphetamines. Young’s voice whoops and soars before slipping into his signature feigned boredom where he sees the note he wants to reach but gives up just before getting there. “Change of Heart Pt.2” is pleasantly poppy but leaves little in its wake before “I Wish I Was a Girl,” the perfect entrance music for a Tarantino femme fatale, sashays into view. Even when Young is reduced to reeling off fashion house names, it still works as a seductive, sinister slow-burner. Ending an album on a heart-rending ballad is apparently becoming a Vaccines trait and few will compare with the lilting “Lonely World” which will no doubt soundtrack hours of reciprocated longing stares in much the same way as the Everly Brothers achieved in their 50′s heyday.

Next Steps

There’s plenty to suggest on Come of Age that The Vaccines are more than just passing hipsters offering reheated rock ‘n’ roll while the 21st Century works out what it wants to sound like. While it may not stray far from the blueprint of its predecessor at its core, there has been an obvious, concerted effort here to build on the bare bones of their debut. Hopefully Come of Age will prove to be the concrete poured into the early foundations on which The Vaccines can construct something truly original and exciting all of their very own.

First published on: Puluche.com

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