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Album Review: ‘English Graffiti’

(Columbia Music)

"English Graffiti" The Vaccines Columbia

By Emaan Baqai

May 27, 2015 12:10 a.m.

After I didn’t know what to expect from 2011’s release of The Vaccine’s first studio album, “What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?,” I formed high expectations that were prematurely disappointed by the band’s 2012 sophomore album, “Come Of Age.” With “English Graffiti,” The Vaccines paint a bright future for itself but left me with mixed feelings.

“English Graffiti,” the third studio album by British indie-rock band The Vaccines, arrives three years after “Come Of Age.” Its first album drew in listeners with garage-rock vibes melded with catchy pop elements, but some of its original finesse faded with the second. However, The Vaccines’ sound has consistently catered to those looking for background music to supplement the dog days of summer and continues to do so with “English Graffiti.”

“Handsome,” the album opener, delivers some consistency with the past with the signature heavy guitar presence and fast-paced pounding lyrics. While nothing remarkable lyrically, the chorus of “Cause I got so bored I held the world for ransom / Lonely, bored and bad, thank God I’m handsome” is catchy and echoes the roots of garage rock that fans come to The Vaccines for.

However, as the band members made clear in an interview with New Musical Express, the band wasn’t seeking to live up to its label as the reliably timeless rock ‘n’ roll band. Though “English Graffiti” maintains a standard of indie-rock, the album marks a transition of The Vaccines into a more contemporary indie-pop style that dips into other genres, getting funky and more whimsical at times.

The departure is clear with the infusion of new elements such as electronica and vocal experimentation in “Minimal Affection” and “Dream Lover.” “Dream Lover” was begrudgingly reminiscent of the slow, dreamlike tracks from Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 release, “AM.” While “AM” brought something new to the plate, however, “English Graffiti” did not.

In the song, Justin Young croons, “When I shut my eyes / I got another / Dream lover,” but not in a manner fans know and love from The Vaccines. While fans may have thought themselves ready to hear less of the version of The Vaccines that asked, “If You Wanna,” in the monotone voice of vocalist Justin Young, this calm crooning in earlier songs like “Family Friend” was missed in this album.

However, the band’s exploration of different influences wasn’t all unpleasant; the somewhat synthesized introduction of “Minimal Affection” blends with its traditional style to create a groovier sound. “Denial” and “20/20” are among some of the more contemporary songs that were easy on the ears, smoothly blending funk and pop elements without distorting its attachment to the past.

In “(All Afternoon) In Love” and the album’s title track, The Vaccines branch into nostalgic, dreamy melodies that suit its past style and add another layer of depth to its repertoire.

The standouts of this album embraced the spectrum The Vaccines have the capacity to cover, from catchy quick lyrics and a fast-paced beat moderated by the guitar in “Handsome” to the slow strumming and Young’s soft serenading: “I am living in a world that’s half the size when I look in your eyes / That would melt away” in “English Graffiti.”

While the third album’s exploration of new genres may be appropriately timed, many aspects of it weren’t signaturely “Vaccines” enough to brand it as impactful as previous albums. Few songs stuck out as keenly as the first album’s “Family Friend” and “If You Wanna” upon first listen, and weren’t unique enough to warrant repetition.

In the name of mixing it up, The Vaccines succeeded by refusing the mold they had stepped into, but that mold was what captivated many fans. From a traditionalist viewpoint that isn’t willing to compromise the band’s raw sound from its first album, “English Graffiti” leaves one pining for the days when no one had expectations for The Vaccines.

Emaan Baqai

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Emaan Baqai | Alumna
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