The Vaccines, English Graffiti - album review: at least they’re searching for ways to sound fresh

The band are stepping away from just playing simple love songs

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The Independent Culture

Perhaps mindful of the creeping lure of routine love songs for a band on their third album, The Vaccines have simply reversed the impulse on English Graffiti, which seems largely comprised of songs of disaffection, a much less well-trodden pathway.

And frankly it’s just as well, since whenever thoughts here turn to love, the results are not pretty. Built around apologetic organ and piano, “(All Afternoon) In Love” is a poignant plodder which slips into emotional entropy via an endlessly repeated “I’ve fallen in love”, while the pleasing tension created in “Want You So Bad” by pitting a damped guitar figure against a distorted guitar riff is wasted on a throwaway song.

A similar mismatch mars “Maybe I Could Hold You”, where keening harmonies are at odds with the flabby drums and heavy swirl of keyboards.

 

But when antipathy rules, things go with a fizzy enthusiasm that’s quite infectious. There’s a poppy, space-candy charm to the rolling pulse and wheedling synth of “Minimal Affection”, with its assertion that “through it all, we don’t have a lot in common, if you don’t even know my name”; “Dream Lover” exults in mental infidelity; and the similarly distant “20/20” (“I’m through thinking about you”) has a sharp, sardonic swagger to match its raw energy, rather like punk re-imagined by Sparks.

“Radio Bikini” is another neo-punk grind, albeit one which epitomises the least attractive characteristic of the production, done by the group with US psych-rock specialists Dave Fridmann and Cole MGN: there’s just no space in the sound. Everything – the snarling buzzsaw guitars, the overdriven, splashy drums, Justin Young’s banked vocals, the keyboards – seems to be bouncing perpetually in the red, a wall of compressed distortion noise that’s simply unpleasant to listen to on a track like “Handsome” (which is anything but). Still, at least they’re searching for ways to refresh their outlook, an ambition beyond the one-trick likes of Palma Violets.

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