Album Review: The Vaccines – English Graffiti

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The Vaccines continue to progress their sound on this their third album, ‘English Graffiti’. Whilst the brilliance of their debut record, ‘What Did You Expect from The Vaccines?’ shone with a fresh post-punk vibe laced with essences of Julian Cope, Ramones and 80s new wave, they now find themselves in an ever increasingly modern groove of indie-pop.

‘Handsome’ has been doing the rounds on the airwaves since early March and it’s a strong opener. An unashamed slice of pop-rock, it’s remarkably upbeat and still carries a whiff of their early work. ‘Dream Lover’ raises the bar and sees the band enter epic rock territory. A killer combination of a catchy chorus melody and some affirming guitar riffage, album track and single number two is one of the band’s finest tunes to date. Unfortunately, the rest of the album fails to live up to the heights of these songs, which is a shame, but there’s still some good material to spin through.

The band boldly stated prior to release that they intended ‘English Graffiti’ to be “genre-defining” and for it to “sound terrible in ten years”. It certainly falls short of carving an unmistakable new path for copycats to follow in their wake (sorry guys) but it’s fair to say that it is musically diverse – sort of. ‘20/20’ blasts jubilant pop-punk and is followed by ‘(All Afternoon) In Love’ which slams on the breaks and sways with tasty sombre balladry. ‘Denial’ and ‘Want You So Bad’ then shift things up a gear, plodding confidently along with a mid-tempo trad-rock swagger whilst being lifted by a shower of guitar effects. The washes of reverb and tremolo are plonked alongside dry plucking rhythms and it works in a weird way, but it isn’t genre-defining.

The album gets patchy in the second half with songs that are all-too brief and forgotten. ‘Radio Bikini’ has an interesting title and not a lot else. Clocking in at just over two minutes it’s a sprint that doesn’t conjure up the engaging energy to warrant a second lap. Guitars jangle away and the occasional bashing of drums fail to muster up the fervent aroma of past glories. ‘Undercover’ is an even shorter instrumental that gets cut off before it can fully mature and the title track is a rather bland slab of acoustic folk that feels more like a throwaway b-side than the titular statement from an album aiming for the history books.

Just like its first single, ‘English Graffiti’ is likely to draw mixed opinion from fans. There are moments of brilliance but the elephant in the room is an unfocused and confused sense of direction that will leave many wanting. Rather than being dismissed completely in ten years’ time, perhaps the record will have grown on listeners as many misunderstood albums in their day often do. Until then, at least we have the first two to listen to.

English Graffiti album cover

6 Average

An album that contains a couple of diamonds in the rough but is largely a confused and unconvincing attempt at genre experimentation.

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