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"What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?"

The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
22 March 2011, 15:00 Written by Phil Gwyn

Sometimes, even quite often, the music industry is brilliantly predictable. Excessive early exposure, proclamations from journalists desperate for a new cover star that the four band members of The Vaccines are going to amalgamate into the second coming of the Messiah and save “the music” just like the Strokes did back in 0PITI (Post ‘Is This It’), and then… the magazines have been sold, the websites have smugly watched the numbers that they watch rise, and the newspapers seem sufficiently cutting edge, so there’s silence… And then, the album’s released, and the music press “realises” that, in a cruel but predictable twist of irony, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? just sounds too much like The Strokes to be anything more than good – a fact, of course, which was not in evidence with those same early singles that caused the whole hype in the first place?

It’s mind bogglingly illogical for the music media to criticise the album for not living up to expectations that the music media itself has created; the album should definitely not be reviewed in the context of some words that an overexcited music journalist may have once written. Various mentionings of bassist Freddie Cowan’s allegedly aristocratic background seem equally irrelevant. I could honestly not care less if he sups his Châteauneuf-du-Pape from between the nipples of the Duke of York (although I would be interested to see evidence if he did); it’s just as offensive to deride him as a musician for being privileged as it would be to discount the Enemy for being working class.

Essentially, for anyone who has spent the past 6 months blissfully unaware of the misleading words being spilt about The Vaccines’ name, or for those who fell in love with their songs – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? will be thrilling, uncomplicated and completely excellent. Opener ‘Wreckin Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ may now come with a touch of accidental irony thanks to that furore over their privileged background, but it’s the perfect embodiment of the album as a hole; short, head-arresting and, of course, about young women. The album reaches a peak shortly thereafter (precisely one song afterwards…) with the joyous refrain of ‘If You Wanna’. We’re not even going to pretend to feel guilty that it sounds even better with added studio polish, The Vaccines were always the pop band that could bring guitars back into the mainstream as an antithesis to the current major label obsession with putting a donk on every-bloody-thing, and ‘If You Wanna’, if they want it to, should do just that.

Elsewhere, ‘Wetsuit’ could have been the best song on the album if it weren’t for its insistence on using the imagery of putting a wetsuit on as a metaphor for being young a carefree, an image which is as confusing as it is unlikely to resonate with anyone. ‘Norgaard’ is sensational in all except it’s borderline-paedophilic tone (the young girl in question, though, is just legal – they may not have re-invented music but those Vaccines boys sure are wily); ‘A Lack Of Understanding’ is pleasingly borderline-depressing (presumably to satiate the self-loathing indie audience – again, so, so wily) and ‘Post Break Up Sex’ is still borderline-confusing as to why it wasn’t enormous (perhaps putting slightly risqué words in song titles isn’t the best idea – slightly less wily).

Perfection is far, far off, though. ‘Under Your Thumb’ just sounds like a depressed imitation of The Drums, who weren’t even that great in the first place, but it’s the overblown ‘All In White’ that really grates. Average on every level, it seems to think it’s Wolfgang’s 5th for the 21st Century (at 4:32 it’s gargantuan by their own standards), but it just ambles into mediocrity and can only prove that they’re best at the thrills of no frills rock and roll. Even in that field, though, they’re not infallible – ‘Wolf Pack’ struggles with a guitar line that is really trying to do something but pales in comparison with the uplifting guitar-pop genius that’s so common elsewhere on the album.

Lead singer Justin Young intones at the beginning of album closer ‘Family Friend’ that “they’ve all got their opinions/but then what do they know?” and this probably sums up in a pithy sentence what I’ve been trying to establish in quite a few hundred words. Ultimately, “What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?” succeeds precisely because it’s done unselfconsciously, and on its own terms. It’s exactly as good as it could have been; a succinct and brilliant return to simple, nostalgic and addictive guitar pop, exactly as they intended, and for once, when it’s this good, reinvention really isn’t necessary.

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