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The Vaccines
What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? John Rowe , March 18th, 2011 09:37

Justin is the last great romantic poet, He's the only one among us who is ever gonna make it, We planned the revolution from a cheap Southampton bistro, I don't remember details, but there were English boys with banjos, Jay is our St George and he's standing on a wooden chair, And he sings songs and he slays dragons and he's losing all his hair.”

So sang tedious “political” bore Frank Turner of the then-Jay Jay Pistolet in his song, ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’. For all Turner’s myriad failings, here, his predictions proved to be unfortunately sagacious; restrainedly so, seeing as not just Jay – now reverted to his full name, Justin Young, as the frontman of The Vaccines – but Mumford & Sons, Johnny Flynn and many of their banjo-wielding “Thamesbeat” ilk have all “made it”, more’s the pity.

Whilst it’d be absurd to suggest Turner’s use of the word “planned” is indicative of anything other than some boys in the pub scrawling ideas for world domination on the back of a beer mat, it’s tempting to theorise over what’s easily perceived as a malignant insidiousness that’s got The Vaccines to where they are now: selling out huge tours and garnering magazine cover after cover on the strength of having done little other than simply exist, and, of course, have connections in the right places. Earlier this year, the dreaded journalist circle-jerk over the “death of guitar music” reared its head – lo and behold, look at this conveniently named band ready to save the day, ready to offer “the cure”, “a shot in the arm", and tediously so on.

A commenter on Drowned In Sound nailed the inherent conundrum that surrounds The Vaccines – “I’m annoyed that I can’t say how average this band are now without looking like some bitter conspiracy theorist.” Whether intentionally or otherwise, the band and their surrounding machinations have created a delicious podium for them to sit on, where anyone seen criticising them is a party-pooping music snob harbouring issues over their own guilty middle class status. The goading sneer of their album title, ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ seems like unequivocal confirmation of the opprobrium that faces anyone who dare question the value of their reductive three chord jangle pop – that’s the whole point, do you not see?

Casting aside any question of class and obviousness, however, there are two main strands of offence that course through The Vaccines’ debut. There’s the fact that throughout the entire album, their fretwork and the production is beyond unremarkable: an automated Spectorite wash of sound here, a 60s girlband “bm bm-bm tsch” there, the odd Libertines-a-like showboating solo popping up now and then, all neutered by Young’s vocal, which has all the empathetic range of a pneumatic drill. Only Alan McGee, Jon McClure and tedious writers who fancy themselves the next Lester Bangs harp on about meaning it, man, but for a band whipping the young folk into a foam-mouthed frenzy, it’d be nice if there were even a tiny hint of passion present. There’s a casual element of destruction that runs through the album, palpable from the songs’ titles alone – ‘Wreckin’ Ball (Ra Ra Ra)’, ‘Blow It Up’, ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ - but the accompanying music and sentiment rarely reaches beyond the petulance of a toddler swiping down a tower of Sticklebricks.

Echoing the words of the fetid Drums, Young’s been quoted as saying “I think it takes balls to make simple music.” Casting the tired linguistic sexism of the statement aside, it’s a pity, then, that The Vaccines seem to have mistaken getting their swinging glands out – take the heinously carnal ‘Post Break Up Sex’ and ‘Norgaard’ with its putrid observations of model Amanda Norgaard’s slender physique as an example – for actually conveying any sense of conviction that aforementioned bollocks supposedly denote. A reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald on ‘Wrecking Ball (Ra Ra Ra)’ rings desperately hollow, and few, if any, of Young’s tribulations miss the chance to attribute blame to some faceless female. The subject of ‘If You Wanna’’s nonchalant, charmless directive is uptight, and fails to understand the complexities of his precious unexplained problem.

Of course, there are plenty of records that deal with solipsism and vanity with aplomb, but by setting expectations low from the off, The Vaccines aren’t compelled to flesh out the details to make such introspection intriguing. They never fully embrace the destruction that might be wrought by sowing their wild oats, and their attempts at invoking carnage are feeble. Instead they come off as petulant and whiney – and worst of all, contrived. In the midst of all this journalistic cliché, The Vaccines have repeatedly been called the cure. But what’s been forgotten is that inoculations are (exotic travels notwithstanding) the preserve of callow youth; a state that The Vaccines should long have grown out of.

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