Although the Vaccines have been a rising force on the UK scene, with Come of Age hitting #1 on the national charts, they are a buzz band at best in North America. While that is a shame for the band, as they deserve a larger, paying and listening audience, the people missing out the most are the uninformed listeners themselves. If “Wreckin’ Bar” and “Post Break-Up Sex” (both singles taken from their debut) didn’t break the band in large markets, maybe the equally genius slut-pop of Come of Age will.
The UK quartet represents everything that the Strokes were supposed to be: punchy and melodic with a vibrant, streetwise attitude that never comes off as gauche. Lead vocalist Justin Young has the swarthy charm of Jarvis Cocker. The meat and potatoes approach to NYC garage rock has a primal simplicity to it. Guitarist Freddie Cowan snakes his way around the guitar with sleazy charm. Even as the rest of the band lays down a clean veneer, his guitar intrudes with some greasy soloing. Arni Arnason (bass) and Pete Robertson (drums) play it straight but tight. Reclaiming the true spirit of rock and roll, the band gives “I Always Knew” a Buddy Holly-via-Phil-Spector beat. The specter of Spector appears throughout the album, including a sure shot for Ronnie Spector (if she’s looking for new solo material) called “All in Vain”.
The Vaccines are a riotous treasure. Their sound is snotty and elegant, refined and street trash all in one lusty throw. With the lexicon of pop music firmly in their grips, the Vaccines have now produced two stellar collections of the best retro-infused indie-rock anywhere. From the Noirish pulp of “Ghost Town” to the Mod-pop of “Aftershave Ocean”, the Vaccines don’t slag around. The eleven songs on Come of Age are as strong as anything from their first; they might even be better by the width of a guitar pick.
The brilliant leadoff track, “No Hope“, is the coming-of-age talk that we all needed at 14 and again at 21. “I don’t care about anybody else when I haven’t got my own life figured out” goes the theme. In the tradition of other great English songwriters, from Ray Davies, Morrissey, and Jarvis Cocker, the Vaccines write with a keen sense of humour, a lack of pretension, and a keen ear for the hook. Finding more inspiration in the rock and pop of the 1950s and 1960s, with a bit of the New York Dolls thrown into the mix, the Vaccines represent a breaking away from the Oasis clones and Radiohead wannabes that have ruined the English pop scene for too long.
“There’s no hope / I hope it’s just a phase I’ll outgrow,” Young sings in his best Davies’ whine. It must be an ironic expression or complete fiction because the Vaccines have every reason to be pumped with hope. Two albums into their career and it’s safe to say: this isn’t a phase.
(And if you missed out on their Taylor Swift cover, get yourself caught up.)
“I Wish I Was a Girl” might be the anthem of 2012 for the metrosexuals of the world. For the rest of us, it is sinfully good pop for the ear buds. “Girl” is one of the standout tracks of the year. Ditto for the closing number, (and future single perhaps??) “Lonely World”, that ends the album on a note of near grace. Young’s vocals rise over a backdrop of angelic percussive beauty while Cowan’s guitar spurts motor oil all over the pristine white space of sound.
While all the songs here are noteworthy, not all are brilliant: “Bad Mood” is the closest thing to a throwaway here. Beyond that, this is a flawless, finessed record. Every other track has the shape and feel of a soon-to-be-a-classic number. In a perfect world, for example, “Weirdo” would be their Creep. Not a chance that will happen, but the song is a damn fine one all the same.
Check out the bonus live CD that comes with some formats of the disc – 17 songs recorded live from Brighton, the disc captures the attitude of the Vaccines in a great live set that includes “No Hope”, “Teenage Icon”, “Post Break-Up Sex” and the Charlie Sheen tribute, “Tiger Blood”.