The Vaccines - English Graffiti

by Alice Woods

English Graffiti is the third album from popular indie-rock outfit The Vaccines. It follows on from their 2012 album Come of Age and the 2013 EP Melody Calling, each of which had a remarkably different sound. It appears that The Vaccines attempt to try a new aesthetic with each album, and English Graffiti is no different. The futuristic, hazy production of much of this album is a marked contrast to the three-chord, simple rock songs from their debut. Nevertheless, The Vaccines seem to progress through this new style fairly well.

We are introduced to the album by three songs that The Vaccines released to the public before the album: Handsome, Dream Lover, and Minimal Affection. While these three songs are likely to catch the attention of casual listeners, they feel massively out of place compared to the rest of the album, and make the start of English Graffiti seem inconsistent and muddled. Nevertheless, Handsome acts as a very good bridging track from their previous sound, and Minimal Affection contains hints of The Strokes’ Angles, thus both songs will capture the attention of previous Vaccines fans without sounding too similar to their old album. Dream Lover’s beginning does sound like a terrible rip of off Arctic Monkeys’ Do I Wanna Know, but the lyrics, about being with one person but thinking of another, are reminiscent of their breakout track, Post Break Up Sex. The following track, 2020, is a standout track on the album. It contains enough of their old, poppy sound, with catchy “oohs” in its snappy chorus, while mixing in the fuzzy production that characterises this album. Having already heard it twice live, I believe it could well become a popular mainstay on The Vaccines’ set list, as it shows off their ability to compose simple yet impeccably catchy tracks.

After 2020, things really start to get interesting. Long time fans of the Vaccines will likely find the change of style unnerving, as (All Afternoon) In Love is a celestial-sounding ballad, with The Vaccines opting for keyboards and synthesizers over the clean guitar sound for which they are known.

Slow songs like this, as well as Denial, Maybe I Could Hold You and Want You So Bad, give the album a more romantic tone than their previous ventures; if songs such as If You Wanna and Post Break Up Sex were about getting over past loves, the songs from English Graffiti are about brand new ones. I imagine these are songs you want to listen with a significant other on a cold night under a bunch of blankets, or maybe that’s just how I’d listen to them. They almost feel like a warm hug in music form, as the instrumentals are strangely comforting, and the vocals are calming and delicate. It does feel odd to listen to compared with what we’re used to from The Vaccines, but there are still traces of unsure, self-conscious lyrics peeping through, with the vocalist Justin Young declaring “I could be whatever helps you / if you want someone to use” on Maybe I Could Hold You and “Would you blow me kisses if I kept my distance?” on Give Me A Sign. The lyrics, as is the case with a lot of Vaccines songs, are simplistic, which could become a criticism. I believe however, that simplistic yet emotive lyrics are the band’s forte. English Graffiti builds on this simplicity, yet combines it with something more tender than what we’ve seen before.

This isn’t to say that this album is primarily slow ballads. The song Radio Bikini is more upbeat, and similar to the Beach Boys-esque songs of their first album. Following on from this is Give Me A Sign. This song definitely has more pop influences than the previous ones. Dare I say it, it wouldn’t sound out of place on One Direction’s latest album, but this isn’t an insult (Young himself has declared previously his fondness for pop artists such as 1D and Taylor Swift). Starting off with powerful guitars that draw in the listener, it reverts to the whispery, ballad-like sound of the rest of the album, but then builds up in a crescendo for the chorus, bringing in backing vocals while Young begs “Give me a sign / Let me be kind!” It’s definitely one of the most memorable songs on the album, and is a good balance between pop and this hazy new sound The Vaccines have adopted. The album closes with Undercover, a short instrumental that reminds us briefly of the celestial sounds of (All Afternoon) In Love, and ends the album well. Should you buy the deluxe edition, there are more tracks in this style to appease you, as well as “re-imagined” versions of the more popular tracks.

Overall, English Graffiti is for the most part, an excellent album. It may well take time for The Vaccines to grow into this new sound; it doesn’t seem to fit them perfectly just yet, like a jumper that’s just slightly too big – yet oversized sweaters seem to be popular these days. Nevertheless, I still can’t help but feel that the first four songs seem out of place when compared with the second half of the album; while all decent songs in their own right, they don’t seem to carry the same romantic consistency of the rest of the album. It’s likely that this album won’t contain as many chart-toppers as previous albums, as it is a slow-burner, but it does show that The Vaccines can break out of the indie-pop mould the media has seemed to form for them and are on the way to creating their own unique sound.