Second albums. They’re difficult. They’re a creative conundrum. They’re often utter shite.
Many potential great guitar bands of our generation have fluffed up the second album by sitting in one of two camps - losing some credibilty/interest by hurrying out a copy-cat of their debut or suddenly changing style and running the risk of losing fans.
Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ had one good single in their original style and a lot of filler. Franz Ferdinand’s ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’ presented a relative carbon copy of their eponymous debut while Kaiser Chiefs’ ‘Yours Truly, Angry Mob’ fell into a similar trap - taking and repeating the lad culture successes of ‘I Predict a Riot’, the break-out single from their debut, to a comparitive lack of interest. The Pigeon Detectives seemed to chuck a load of B-sides together to rush-release ‘Emergency’, a potential early nail in the coffin of their indie cred. As much as all these bands have dodged the fatal bullet and managed to continue producing records, but all of their second albums seem to be just that - a deliberate dodge. Franz and TPD third efforts were arguably much closer to classic status while their sophomore releases were simply a stop-gap.
On the other side of the fence, The Killers alienated a lot of fans by shifting from guitar-led pop to brass-infused pomp with ‘Sam’s Town’, but produced some of their biggest tracks yet - ‘When You Were Young’ and ‘Read My Mind’ were two of the biggest sing-alongs when I saw them at V Festival this summer. Similarly, with ‘This Modern Glitch’ The Wombats took the plunge and largely dropped the guitars in favour of synths and swapped songs about teenage lust after a myriad of ladies (see ‘A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation’) for darker topics such as anti-depressant addiction, lost youth and broken relationships. Arguably this second camp, desipte its risks, has produced the more memorable and hit-filled records for this generation of guitar bands. So what would The Vaccines do?
Well, in their second outing, entitled ‘The Vaccines Come of Age’, the West London foursome, ever-opting to be different, haven’t reinvented the wheel or stuck with their original sound. Instead it’s a kind of progressive middle ground, a collection of tracks which offers something for original fans and those looking for something slightly more.
The Vaccines stormed to fame through their amped-up guitar pop in the form of tracks like ‘Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ and ‘If You Wanna’, and their second new-album single ‘Teenage Icon’ completely lives up to this reputation producing some of their catchiest and most enjoyable material yet, doubtlessly keeping a number of fans on-side. However, ‘Change of Heart pt. 2’ is the only other track which attempts this short poppy formula, with perhaps slightly less success. The inclusion of these tracks shows the band’s intention to keep old fans happy, but the absence of any more indicates their need for progression - 2 albums in a row of indie pop sing-alongs is an unsustainable method if they want to hold onto their crown of the biggest new UK guitar band of the last two years.
On their debut, ‘Wetsuit’, ‘Blow It Up’ and ‘All In White’ showed another side of The Vaccines - the slow building epics. This album also tips its hat to these previous favourites with songs such as ‘Lonely World’ and ‘Weirdo’, both of which build to stadium-filling size after a slow-burning start. These songs are enjoyable, and could well become live favourites, but as with any new album it’s the differences rather than the similarities which are most interesting, and The Vaccines go for different in a big way on this record.
Firstly, debut single and album opener ‘No Hope’ offers a different sound altogether, including less reverb covered guitars and a Bob Dylan-esque casual delivery of lyrics, which almost resembles a drunken ramble rather than singer Justin’s usual shouty delivery, possibly a result of Justin’s numerous throat operations. However, the sing-along festival sound remains intact in the form of a catchy chorus, and The Vaccines manage to show their versatility early on without alienating anyone.
At Reading Festival last weekend, the only non-single new songs the four-piece played were ‘Bad Mood’ and ‘Ghost Town’, which fall into a new sound-scape for the band. Perhaps as a result of their work with Albert Hammond Jr, these songs are lead by repeated hard rock-esque guitar riffs, something there wasn’t really much time for on their 36-minute debut. Both songs work well, building up from a rocky riff to amped-up verses and singable, though not necessarily poppy, choruses. This style recurs on ‘I Wish I Was a Girl’, where Justin gives an inside look at an unexpected side of his psyche, whilst also leaving time for a massive guitar solo that any classic rock act would be proud of. Will this new rockier sound be the future of the band? It’s impossible to say, but it works well to help give this album a third dimension.
A personal favourite and a possible single from this record is the anomalous ’Aftershave Ocean’ which ambles along at an uncharacteristically low BPM but is held together by jangley major chords and self indulgent background guitar playing including bent-notes and a number of could-be solos. Justin’s ‘No Hope’ style casual delivery makes the song sound almost Beatles-esque, telling a simple story over the life-affirming sounds of chord structure simplicity. The subject of the song could well be trying to seduce a girl with a boyfriend. A boyfriend who, presumably, wears a lot of aftershave. The song includes some brilliantly tounge-in-cheek lyrics including ‘You’d say “I don’t understand you”, You’d say “ignorance is bliss”, so come give me a kiss!’ and my personal favourite ‘I got water up my nose, and had to dry my clothes, in your aftershave ocean’.
All in all, the album seems like an experimentation of sorts. Some slow numbers, some old style sing-alongs, some amped-up riffy rocky smashers and one brilliant song about girls and aftershave. This mixture of sounds was a good shout, allowing the band to measure which sounds get the best reactions on their upcoming tour and then perhaps settling into one sound later. For now, we should enjoy this eclectic collection of songs and be glad they’re trying new things out.
‘The Vaccines Come of Age’ is released September 3rd on Columbia.
You can stream it for free for a short while here: