The Vaccines – English Graffiti
Sometimes it’s easy to underestimate the effect that The Strokes had on modern rock. After all the band itself put out one classic debut and a series of follow-ups that can be charitably described as decent. We’re now fourteen years out from the moment that Julian Casablancas kicked over a mic stand in the “Last Nite” video, and their presence has been enmeshed into the public consciousness for so long that it seems as though it had always been there. The mixture of strummy 70s heartland guitar rock (that “Last Nite” intro is pure “American Girl”) and Television-appropriating melodies sounded odd next to Seether and System Of A Down at the time, but now every band on alternative radio has the Strokes DNA.
The Vaccines are no exception. Their 2011 debut, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? earned them hype as the Next Saviours of Rock ‘n’ Roll because they could pull off the swagger and the wit of the Strokes in a fun way. Like so many bands before them – Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, and the Strokes themselves – their second album was an attempt at more of the same and the intensity of the hype dropped away. Now, with English Graffiti, they attempt reinvention. Forget relationship songs, we’ll write songs about stuff. Dave Fridmann will produce. We’ll tell everyone it’s because he did The Woods, but we’ll tell him to pull out the tricks he played on The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Actually you know what, we’ll get Cole M. Grief-Niell to produce too, to get that so-hot Ariel Pink AM pop sound at the same time. Everyone loves that sound, right? We’ll get on the radio right now.
And so English Graffiti was born. “Handsome” is a quick-and-slick opener, just the kind of thing to get thing pumping. “Dream Lover” follows and reaches for the arena seats, the festival slots, and anywhere else that you can throw your fist in the air and become disconnected from the band on stage. “Want You So Bad” and especially “(All Afternoon) In Love”, however, crawl along far too slowly to elicit any interest, and “20/20” and “Radio Bikini” overdo perky and radio-ready to a large degree. The album bounces back and forth between crawling on the floor and jumping on the bed, strung together by the gloss that both Fridmann and Grief-Neill polish onto everything. The final effect is that it sounds like candy-coated post-Strokes alterna-rock, aiming for everyone and hitting a few people along the way. The biggest problem with the album, though, is the way that the instruments are allowed to run into the red on a constant basis. There’s a buzz behind every instrument that comes from pure clipping. Volume-boosting for a bigger sound worked magically on The Soft Bulletin, it works significantly less magically on English Graffiti.