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Posted on May 26th, 2015 (10:00 am) by Michael Negron

Where is the distinction between late and fashionably late? We all know there’s a difference; there’s the guy who shows up just as the party starts raging, and the other, who’s lucky to catch the tail-end. The Vaccines have always been the latter, acting like the former: while critics may argue whether their debut, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?, owes more to post-punk or garage rock, it’s clear to everyone that they missed the last call for revivals by about half a decade. As though oblivious to this, the band plodded through the growing pains of their follow-ups, held afloat on style and enough lucidity to stick to the radio-friendly flavoring in which they thrive. English Graffiti is the logical extension to The Vaccines’ chronology, jumping on the hype train for '80s nostalgia, and in the process losing any sense of self they may have had previously.

If there’s one good thing to say about English Graffiti, it’s that The Vaccines are wholehearted in their bandwagoning. The album retains the same self-assured, spitfire attitude that got them to where they are, only now drenched in reverb and slathered in wistful longing. With song titles like “Dream Lover,” “(All Afternoon) In Love,” and “Want You So Bad,” you almost have to give them credit for laying on the cheese so hard. In moments, it does work; “Handsome,” the lead single and frontrunner on the album, makes a good first impression by balancing the new aesthetic with the old. In many ways, this transition shouldn’t be too much of a shock. The Vaccines have slowly meandered in this general direction and have also espoused their love of '80s pop. If the entire album had that same sense of balance, The Vaccines might have been able to create a third niche cash-in.

Unfortunately, that’s not at all what happens.

The album is incredibly unbalanced, despite doing all the “right” things: they have the lead singles in the front, some more heartfelt moments in the middle, and any filler that might exist is pushed to the back. It would seem easy at first to say that the album is front-loaded, and if you count four tracks as front-loading it is, but any sense of the word is trashed the second “In Love” starts to play. The song, a ballad a la Michael Bolton (okay, that’s too rough, how about Pet Shop Boys? The lyrics are probably more accurate anyway), is sentimental in all the worst ways.

It’s hard to think that this is the same band that made “Post Break-Up Sex,” and it’s the difference between the two that describes the biggest problem with English Graffiti: the band isn’t cool. “In Love” is vulnerable in a convenient way, but is then necessarily the antithesis of everything The Vaccines were before it. Even in the other songs, the best you can hope for is “fun but corny.” While some other artists might be able to embrace that and convert it into something tolerable, when The Vaccines drift into the dregs of that area, as they quite often do, it’s either laughable or grating.

English Graffiti is a blueprint album, carefully crafted for mass appeal. As the band is veering more toward pop, that should be a fitting decision, but the album’s execution suffers from the band’s fatal lack of self-awareness. Consequently, the band makes no conversation on the conventions of archaic pop, neither converting it to a modern revision of the past nor utilizing it to augment their craft. Instead, The Vaccines choose to relay a faithful interpretation of a bygone era that both succeeds and fails by those measures. Sadly, the failures are much more memorable.

Due to lack of viable links, here's the unedited version of "Handsome:"

Track List:

  1. Handsome
  2. Dream Lover
  3. Minimal Affection
  4. 20/20
  5. (All Afternoon) In Love
  6. Denial
  7. Want You So Bad
  8. Radio Bikini
  9. Maybe I Could Hold You
  10. Give Me A Sign
  11. Undercover
The Vaccines - English Graffiti
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

47 / 100
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