British pop-punk power group is back in action
The Santa Clara
April 12, 2018
The Vaccines have returned to good, old-fashioned British punk peppered with self-aware lyricism. Their new album, “Combat Sports,” is just what the band’s diehard fans needed to hear.
Sure, the pop-punk approach may not have the grime of the Sex Pistols or the political appeal of the Clash, but the Vaccines have done what many rock bands find impossible: they’ve given themselves an opportunity to reach a wider audience. Though their previous album “English Graffiti” made an attempt at mainstream appeal, it came off as a misreading of what their listeners wanted.
“Combat Sports” sees the band returning to the original rock sound that won over their fan base in the first place. Frontman Justin Young commented on the thought process transformation behind the group’s songwriting in an interview with New Musical Express. This time around, the group made a point of keeping their live shows in mind when writing their music. On the English Graffiti tour, the band found that some of their more heavily produced tracks didn’t quite translate to live shows. Some songs “relied so heavily on studio trickery and production that of course we can technically play them live, but I don’t think we’d ever do them justice,” Young told NME.
Their efforts to make their music more performance friendly pay off in this latest release. The tracks are lightly produced and feature much more basic guitar, drum, bass, etc., rather than the synths used more heavily on the last album.
While the lyrics on “Combat Sports” may not be literary marvels, they do have a certain romantic, poetic quality. They’re easy to hear and sing along to—a reflection of the band’s intent to get their mojo back in their live performances.
The album’s opening track, “Put It On A T Shirt,” hooks the listener in with pretty images of touching the hand of God at the top of a mountain—a mountain climbed while wearing patent leather shoes laid over simple but passionately played progression of power chords. “I Can’t Quit” continues the established theme of the album with a radio-ready indie anthem. The lyrics are an outpouring of frustration, for example: “Oh, you can’t offer change, can you?”
The guitar solo in “I Can’t Quit” is neither as particularly complex nor as long as listeners might expect from a group that describes themselves as a “guitar band.” The curt solo is an intentional choice. The group wants to keep their audience singing along, not lose them in the depths of a long and intricate solo.
This isn’t the group’s first rodeo as a well-renowned group, and they let you know. Young yells in defiance, “I’m over it!” Maybe this lyric is a sort of defiance of his past side-job as a songwriter for pop bands such as One Direction.
“Your Love Is My Favourite Band” contains some remnants of the synths and heavy production from previous albums. “[The song] was a turning point: a new perspective on something tried and tested. It reignited something in me,” Young told NME.
“Young American” forces the album to slow down. Young (yet again) reminices mournfully about a girl. He told NME, the song was written “really soon after I’d stopped seeing someone who I really liked at the time. It was uncomfortable for me to sing when I was demoing it, so I knew: ‘Oh, that’s a good thing.’” I certainly agree. The soft ballad is a sensual breath of fresh air in the middle of an otherwise aggressive album.
“Nightclub” starts with a smashing riff reminiscent of Debbie Harry’s “One Way Or Another” before gradually escalating into a wall of grinding guitar noise. It rips us away from the lull of “Young American” and launches us back into the throws of good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. Ben Beaumont-Thomas of The Guardian described it as “The Clapping Song done by a pissed-off biker gang.”
The album closes with “Rolling Stones,” which opens with a low-fi church organ sound over acoustic guitar. “When your mouth is as big as the Rolling Stones,” Young sings. “It’s about when you’re lippy but you’re dying inside,” he told NME.
The album reflects that sentiment: The group is selfaware and sentimental, but they still have that rock ‘n’ roll punch to their music. They’re recognizing their strengths and continuing to hone their craft after they sidetracked from their pure rock with “English Graffiti.”
Contact Ethan Beberness at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.