If there’s one thing you can say about New Musical Express it’s that they’re unbelievably consistent. Especially over the past fifteen years or so, the bands that have received the highest degree of hype from the British rag—everyone from The Strokes to The Libertines to Kaiser Chiefs to Arctic Monkeys—sound like they were cut from a very similar cloth: Often jittery post-punk outfits born and bred on Brit-pop that tackle the quirkier facets of (male) modern life. NME champions music made by the people for the people. So it’s no surprise that the latest recipient of everyone’s favorite hyperbolic headlines, London four-piece The Vaccines, fits squarely into that mold. Their first NME cover declared, “The Return of The Great British Guitar Band,” while their second read, “Never Mind The Hype, Here’s The Vaccines”—the latter notable as that cover also features a blurb on the Arctic Monkeys new record and an advertisement for the magazine’s review of The Strokes’ Angles. See what I mean?
Let’s get something else out of the way: the name of this record is What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? Well for the short answer, see the above paragraph. But you didn’t come here for the easy way out. No, this snarky, intimidating rhetorical questioning/posturing à la Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys? demands closer analysis. Because, oh, how such ostensible simplicity deceives! This is the next great British guitar band we’re talking about, isn’t it?
No. Wait. Fuck it. Everything seems pretty straightforward here. Jangly guitars abound, complete with uninspired-cause-it’s-cool-to-seem-uninterested vocals from Justin Young, whose bland tenor carries enough of a casual cockney drawl to make you think he’s just one of the lads at the pub. The bass pops up every now and then, just enough to remind you it’s there, and mostly just to introduce a song or take the occasional lead on a verse, y’know, to keep you on your toes. Your sugar-rushed swingers are balanced evenly with your dissonant introspective near-ballads. Subject matter includes, and is usually limited to: sex, drinking, lingering youth, and girls who are (a) controlling, (b) crazy, (c) intimidating, or (d) all of the above. Look, that’s not to say that all these aesthetic and lyrical tropes are stale and no band should tackle them; but like anything tired and true, perspective is necessary—and that’s something The Vaccines lack.
Granted What Did You Expect has its moments, albeit brief ones. Toe-tappers “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” and “Nørgaard” are hard to disregard if only for their spot-on pop simplicity—the fact that neither lasts longer than a minute and a half may help. “Wolf Pack” and “If You Wanna” hit some similar notes, but lyrically these tracks are utterly simplistic. Not from cheeky charm or innocence, though, but rather insipid platitudes: “I don’t want to wake up in the morning / But I’ve got to face the day,” opens “If You Wanna.” Hard hitting stuff.
The rest of the record you can plod through at your own risk: the attempts at grandeur on “Blow It Up” fall horrendously flat, and the vapid chorus of “Post Break Up Sex” is repeated so many times it starts to feel like one of those “Sex! Now that I’ve got your attention…” ploys. Listen to What Did You Expect enough and the whole thing starts to meld together—a droning hodgepodge of reverbed, slightly overdriven guitar arpeggios and two, sometimes three chord progressions with your basic drum beats and bass lines chucked into the background. “Family Friend,” What Did You Expect’s final track, is The Vaccines’ obligatory crack at catharsis. Slowly strummed chords with sparse, distant tom beats: check. Slow build: check. Everything cuts out at one point except guitar and vocals: check. Followed immediately by a great crescendo with steady drums and epic cymbal crashes and big open chords: check. Wailing vocals: check. Melody that sounds exactly like an earlier track on the album (in this case, “If You Wanna”): check. Big ending that dissolves into feedback: check. Prolonged silence before the secret, brooding piano track at the end: check. And then, finally, it’s over.
[Insert expected joke about getting exactly what you expected from The Vaccines: here.]