The problem with the Vaccines’ first album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, wasn’t the songs. On paper, the band’s debut full-length actually wasn’t that bad. At their best, the songs had solid melodies, catchy hooks, and memorable riffs. The problem was… well, there were many of them. The lyrical matter was stale, clichéd, and perspective-less. The band’s branding attempts after they were crowned as, to use NME’s words, “The Return of The Great British Guitar Band” were transparent. Just about everything they brought to the table was derivative of the mid-2000’s post-Strokes wave of lad-rock that is now glorified by the British press, but without introducing anything new or particularly interesting to the equation. Even their album title was a rip-off from one of the key documents of that era, Arctic Monkeys’ Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys? EP. The fact that the Vaccines songs weren’t bad on paper might have been the only good thing about it.
But wait! Now The Vaccines have Come Of Age. They’ve matured and come into their own after being weaned off of lad-rock, and now they’re ready to deliver a statement that’s really their own! Oh wait, no they haven’t and no they aren’t. It’s just another transparent marketing attempt. The Vaccines’ sophomore effort is really more of the same stale formula, executed with a lack of perspective and individuality. The problems start with “No Hope,” the album’s leadoff track and also lead single. With angsty lyrics delivered in a detached manner by frontman Justin Young over reverb-coated, interlocking guitars, “No Hope” sounds tailor-made to appeal to hit a sweet spot for anyone who grew up on The Vaccines’ predecessors. But the lyrics reek of disingenuousness. The worst offender is the line about being “young and bored and 24,” which is more than kinda hard to believe considering the band’s coming off a tour that traversed five continents.
But it’s not even so much the fact that Justin Young is still bored at this point as it is that his boredom is not directed at anything beyond a few generic sentiments about being self-obsessed and not having his life figured out yet. The Strokes addressed the same issues compellingly by telling poignant stories about fractured relationships, with the end result being a lesson of sorts on how to deal with mundane social issues. Across Come Of Age The Vaccines just bluntly rehash the same points by using bland generalities with little of the storytelling prowess or wittiness of the bands they’re trying so hard to ape. At least when Julian Casablancas ran out of things to say, he admitted it.
On “I Always Knew,” Young sings “Cause it’s you, I always knew” without getting around to what, exactly, “it” is. “Teenage Icon” is a highlight of Come Of Age instrumentally, with tasteful keyboard touches in the background that belie the band’s solid pop sensibilities, but the song’s vague, generic lyrics about being an ordinary guy manage to bring it crashing to the ground in a hurry. It’s more of a shame than anything else, because “Teenage Icon” isn’t really lacking in any other respects; the hooks are there, the interplay between band members is seamless, and on the whole, the playing sounds sprightly and effortless. It’s just those lyrics, which make a play for sympathy with lines like “Oh look at me/So ordinary,” and “Reserved and shy/Your average guy,” but only come off as forced and transparent.
To The Vaccines’ credit, they do lower the ante from their first album by aiming less for the stadium rafters that they missed before with their choruses and more for the people in front of them. “Bad Mood” has some scrap to its garage-y guitar riffage that sounds like it was plucked straight from an early Cribs record. And “Aftershave Ocean” is the least like anything else they’ve done, managing to sound laid-back without being detached and featuring the album’s most subtle and thereby effective lyrics. There’s nothing wrong with seeking to accomplish the same things your heroes did, but when a band tries only to imitate a few aspects–in this case, detached singing, jangly guitar interplay, and lyrics about teen angst–without offering many of the other aspects that made that band great–like clever storytelling and interesting perspectives–it’s always going to fall short. Which Come Of Age does.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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