Never judge a book by its cover and all that, but the front of The Young Veins‘ debut album almost dares you not to make assumptions before you’ve even put the record on. All 1960s colour scene and typography, decorated with pictures of the band in a beachfront setting a la the Beach Boys pre-Pet Sounds, even the CD itself is decorated as a View-Master disk. It’s straight away fair to assume Take A Vacation! – another clue as to intentions there – will bear negligible influence from grime or glitch, or indeed any major musical developments from the last forty years.
So it may be surprising that this is the new project of Ryan Ross and John Walker, one of the remnant sects when emo front line members Panic! At The Disco split in half last year. Surprising, that is, until you recall Pretty. Odd, their 2008 second album attempt to shy away from make-up and teenage poetry friendly pop-punk towards an orchestrated, harmony-heavy Beatles quasi-pastiche chiefly written by Ross. Under their own steam Ross, Walker and friends, including Tilly & The Wall’s Nick White, engineer a coming out party comprising eleven comparatively laid-back nuggets, only one longer than three minutes (and there‘s no real reason for that track to last as long as it does), that pay due credit to surf rock, the British Invasion, the Beach Boys and basic, rough and ready garage rock kids.
Just in case we hadn’t noticed, opener ‘Change’ is built round the assurance “some people never change, they just stay the same way”, over a Byrdsian clean guitar sound, organ and tambourine giving it the pure sound of 1965, straying close to the Monkees of all bands. That’s pretty much how most of the album runs, snappily arranged and crisply played with handclaps, Wurlitzers, twelve strings and economically deployed backing harmonies, produced by Pretty. Odd producer Rob Mathes and Phantom Planet singer turned Mark Ronson sideman Alex Greenwald. ‘Cape Town’ tries to have the best of both worlds in borrowing from both the Beatles circa Please Please Me, with a twanging guitar intro, criss-crossing harmonies and simple sunny love story, and Phil Spector, with castanets and bells plus a cameo for the Be My Baby drumbeat towards the end.
These are not big sentiments. ‘Young Veins (Die Tonight)’ glories in their situation where “we have the time of our lives every night like it’s our job to lose our minds”, a nod to the likes of Jan & Dean claiming they only lived to surf. “A wedding ring is just a thing that wears you down, it occupies your finger… love is all I’m really after” Walker asserts on the acoustic led, early Lennon-like ‘Everyone But You’, an interesting sentiment they never expand upon except on the scuzzier ‘Defiance’, which in any case becomes more wrapped up in itself.
It’s this retrospective slavishness that both makes much of it a perfectly worthwhile summer listen and shows up its major flaws. They can still do a Beatles take on what we presume to be a smaller recording budget, more the less baroque, more personally affecting McCartney penned minor key ballads – ‘Dangerous Blues’ goes as far as paying tribute to Lennon’s own solo excursions into 1950s rock’n’roll – but what comes across most of all is a band and songwriter who have studied the form but not so much the content. What eludes them throughout is a workable musical hook, the sort of thing that would colonise AM radio in the way their heroes did effortlessly. When even this strain of revivalism has been mined so often before, not least by these personnel, it resultantly doesn’t feel like something that had to be made, more a space filling exercise. Ross and Walker’s effervescence, although their vocals don‘t always convince, allied to the pin-sharp sound and the sense they’re at least trying hard at their chosen craft steer it away from the sterile piece recorded under studio laboratory conditions that it could have been. It’s just that it’s not an album that reflects the fun the band must have had making it – the best singalong is on the last track, ’Heart Of Mine’, which is leaving it a bit late – or the essential qualities that made the records they synthesise from last in pop’s consciousness for so long.