The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
Ah, that title! Is it just that bit too self-aware or do we let it through the gate, approving of its wry acknowledgement of The Vaccines' un-winnable position at the heart of 2011’s maelstrom of hype? It seems to simultaneously pre-empt criticism and mock anticipation; this is self-aggrandisement with a shrug of the shoulders, an impressively difficult move. I mean, can you imagine: What Did You Expect From The Wombats/Shed Seven/The Pigeon Detectives? If this highly anticipated (my words) debut turned out to be, after the dust settled, a bit crap (or, worse, just okay) we’d laugh the deluded buggers out of town. “It’s shit!” screams the consensus. Well what did you expect? “Hang on – it’s actually pretty damn fine!” At which point The Vaccines raise a Lee Van Cleef eyebrow before spitting out and crushing the cheroot of our fickle expectations. Well what did you expect? Quite.
The opening blitzkrieg trammel of ‘Wreckin’ Ball’ is unequivocal statement of intent. You can hear Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey banging on the coffin lid from here. It squeezes its “Ra Ra”s and “Yeah Yeah”s into a minute and 20 seconds of buzzsaw havoc. It’s a calling card that, as a potential doubter, causes you to go ”Huh?” ‘If You Wanna’ expands on that aesthetic, if only by hanging around for a couple of minutes more. But it takes three tracks to fully silence the inner cynic. ‘A Lack Of Understanding’ is everything indie guitar pop could be if only crazed ambition and scaling the heights were mandatory on the ‘let’s form a band’ syllabus - “I’ve got too much time on my hands / But you don’t understand … or you won’t understand,” sings Justin Young (in a refreshingly deliberate, declamatory style not dissimilar to Paul Banks). Oh my. You search in vain for the names Goffin and King on the sleeve, for few can grasp the nuances of heartbreak in the popular song as (apparently) easily as this. ‘A Lack Of Understanding’ takes aim at the soft underbelly of your heart and lands blow after blow after blow. It sprinkles poetics on its world weary posturing; always a sucker for despair and longing when it’s coupled to old-before-my-time knowing, it drags me down The Vaccines’ rabbit hole, leaving my tired doubts fluttering away on the breeze.
And we’re off. Even after such an irresistable start, WDYEFTV still has sweet meats tucked away for the truly hungry. What this lot have been misspending their youth listening to starts to emerge. It’s a blast to note that someone, for once, isn’t starting their Musical Influences Timeline with the emergence of The Libertines. No, this classically formed debut takes its cue from the great and the good, namely 50’s rock ‘n’ roll and its black leather offshoots. It calls up the ghost of drag strip USA, of Spector on a mission, of shimmying girl groups and summer nights spent trawling the drug stores and drive-ins in a Lincoln with the top down. It reminds you that even NME fodder can divert from the path. You there, young Vaccine – no not there, sit there at the back. That’s right, next to that nice young William Reid. Okay then, next to Sharin Foo…but behave yourself. The Mary Chain and The Raveonettes: bedfellows to be treasured and peers and influences worth acknowledging with a proper doff of the cap. Oh man, the aspiration. Forgive me but you takes your thrills where you can get ‘em these days and seeing the young pretenders get squiffy on a proper, proven vintage is enough to put me gleefully in the gutter.
‘All in White’ ghosts in on a cloud of pure Interpol, ominous and stark (“Break me on the 37th hour…”) Bizarrely, it lifts its exultant chorus from Mumford & Sons' ‘The Cave'. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Actually, it’s not that subtle at all, but don’t let that put you off. ‘Under Your Thumb’ sports a Funk Brothers backing track (think The Four Tops' ‘Reach Out’) and then finds room for a canny lift from Eddie Cochran's ‘C’mon Everybody’. (How old are this lot again? Has anybody actually checked?) ‘Blow It Up’ does exactly what a song called ‘Blow It Up’ should do, its opening crunching riff a snarl in the right speaker, joined after a couple of bars by an accompanying sneer in the left.
Of course, it’s not all carousels and speedway rides. ‘Norgarrd’ is a tad too throwaway. Its “her mind’s made up, she don’t wanna go steady / She’s only 17, so she’s probably not ready” jars somewhat. It doesn’t help that Young sings “ready” as “read-ehh!” That’s a bit too close to the terraces for comfort and scrapes away a micron or two of The Vaccines’ haughty, artful poise. The closing ‘Family Friend’ thinks it's a slowburn epic when it's really a misguided bore, drudging away like ‘Champagne Supernova’; it causes them to bow out on a dull low. And single ‘Post Break-up Sex’ is always going to be hamstrung by a couplet so clumsy and sixth form it beggars belief. I can put a post-modern ‘so crap it must be good’ slant on most things but I’m slamming the door on: “Post break-up sex, that makes you forget your ex”. Sorry, boys.
But these are quibbles, impurities in a seam that for the most part gleams. The song writing, informed by a clear love of a deep heritage, is largely outstanding. The playing, the approach, is dead-on; muscular but fleet-of-foot, never lumpen. Justin Young, supplier of genuinely notable vocals, sets his band apart. All of which leads me to suggest that when you stumble across this album in a year or two’s time, free it from under the microwave or behind the telly, you may well nod and smile. “Oh wow,” you’ll say. “I’d forgotten about this.” Could it be that The Vaccines rode the hype and the weight of expectation and actually came through? While you’re wondering where they ever got to, or considering giving their ‘experimental’, f***-the-masses second album one last chance, you’ll head for the stereo warmed by memories of the summer of 2011 and how this debut formed an unshakeable backdrop to its joys and its trials. You’d settle for that, surely?