Track-by-Track: The Vaccines – English Graffiti

The Vaccines are back! It’s already been three years since the Justin Young-fronted indie rockers released their sophomore record Come of Age, with the quartet now gearing up to release their hotly anticipated third album English Graffiti. Read on for a track-by-track review of the record.


The record opens with fuzzy guitars and a classic Rock & Roll vibe as the short but sharp Handsome comes into full effect. A pounding drum and bass combo underpins the song for the most part, with Freddie Cowan’s stabbing guitar jumping in and out of fuzzy consciousness alongside Young’s eclectic vocals. “Well I got so down I held the world for ransom” sings Young during the chorus as the song carries itself along in a mixture of rockabilly attitude and floor filling power. Handsome is exactly what The Vaccines need to bring themselves fully back to life.

Recent single Dream Lover is much unlike the fast-paced Handsome, relying more on a raunchy guitar riff and ambient synths to put the message across. The verses are minimal, with occasional guitar flourishes accompanying a steady combination of synth, drums and bass. Its chorus is massive, begging for a massive sing-a-long whenever played live. It’s one of the best songs on the album, and it may even be the best song The Vaccines have ever written. “When you’re on my mind I kinda like it” proclaims Young during the second verse, before fuzzy guitars intertwine with a jangly melody. It’s an early highlight on English Graffiti, and a song which will go down as one of the best songs of 2015.

Minimal Affection
is about as far away as you can get from the sound which The Vaccines demonstrated on their first two records. The track powers along by means of a jumpy bassline, 80s synths and electric drum flashes. It’s almost as if the band are trying to sound as un Vaccines as possible, and it’s something they do very well. The chorus is borderline Strokes, in part down to Cowan’s distorted guitars and Young’s airy vocals. “Moving on, and we don’t have a lot in common” sings Young in a downbeat tone before Pete Robertson’s drums introduce hints of tambourine in and amongst the synth-strings and 80s elements which swamp the song.

The pace is sped right up on 20/20 as handclap beats and four-to-the-floor drums accompany Young’s energetic vocals and fuzzy, distorted guitars which are turned up to 11. “I’m through thinking about you” declares Young in and amongst all the Rock & Roll bombast present, sounding as un-bothered as possible in his delivery. “All I want is you” he counters later, before changing his mind yet again ahead of a sharp guitar solo and powerful breakdown. 20/20 is another English Graffiti, demonstrating a more refined sound to The Vaccines upbeat indie rock.

This is the first song on the record to feature piano and strings, both of which are accompanied by a melancholic melody. (All Afternoon) In Love is a proper love song, with Young pouring his heart out over a fantastic instrumental set-up. “I’ve fallen in love” he sings, sounding almost disappointed in his choices as he sings. It may be a more stripped down track, yet it still bears all the hallmarks of an 80s power ballad, territory which The Vaccines are less afraid to explore on their third record.

’s opening synth and bass combo keeps the pace relatively slow, before a selection of handclap beats make way for an upbeat chorus. The whole track is centred around Arni Arnason’s catchy bass line, with Robertson’s percussion being as minimal as ever on Denial. It may fall back slightly in quality compared to the rest of the album so far, yet Young’s serene vocals and Cowan’s guitar line make up for this in places.

A simple drum beat opens the track, before strummed acoustics and a poppy synth melody accompany Young’s cocksure vocal delivery. “Oh how does it feel?” he asks ahead of the chorus, before the melody is given an extra sense of layering in its hazy guitars and added synth lines. Want You So Bad also features one of Cowan’s best guitar sections on the record, with his subtle melody underpinnings just as vital as the distorted monster which pops up at various points on the record. Want You So Bad does fall back a bit more in terms of quality, although this may also perhaps be due to the fact that it’s the third mid-paced song in a row.

The two-minute long Radio Bikini is all power and catchy riffs as the band tread even more on Rock & Roll and Rockabilly elements. The guitars and drums combine powerfully and hit you like a punch in the face courtesy of Floyd Mayweather, with Young’s vocals sounding as urgent and upbeat as ever. Cowan’s heavily distorted solo makes way for heavily effects-laden drums as the song quickly comes to a sudden close.

Maybe I Could Hold You
re-enters power ballad territory, leaning more towards the raunchy melodies and riffs of Dream Lover. Its chorus is big and dreamy, with Young later asking “what is history? Is it in the future?” as guitars and synths intertwine in a melodic war. However, the song does eventually drag on and lose itself in a mix of hazy instrumentation, not finding its way out of the screeching guitars and soothing backing vocals.

A massive 80s guitar riff opens the track in what sounds like the most bombastic thing The Vaccines have ever done. The melody soars across the track, sounding like something which Guns’n’Roses could’ve thought up in their heyday. “You’re so cold, but I’m just hot air” declared Young during the first verse as he later wails the track title over the main riff. It’s a very solid power ballad, eventually picking up the pace later on. Give Me A Sign is one of the better songs on English Graffiti, something which is largely down due to its huge riff, one which holds the track together seamlessly.

Closing track Undercover remains silent for thirty seconds, before fading in with an enveloping mix of ambient synth noises and beautiful chordal progressions. It bears elements of early Phoenix, remaining instrumental the whole way through as it brings English Graffiti to an ethereal close.

On English Graffiti, The Vaccines have proven themselves to be born again. Never has a band come back from two fantastic records to top both of them simultaneously. Justin Young & co. sound rejuvenated and re-energized on English Graffiti, even if its quality does unfortunately fall back in certain areas. Come this time next year The Vaccines will be one of the biggest bands in the world – watch this space.


English Graffiti is out now.