The Vaccines sixth record is full of nostalgic - if a little predictable - indie pop tunes that seek to overcome relatable themes of sadness and heartbreak.
Since 2011 debut What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, The Vaccines have delivered album after album of charismatic indie-pop anthems, arguably going down as the most consistent semi-mainstream British bands of the 2010s. The West London band kick off the early year releases with Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations, the title of which is taken from a misheard line in Don McLean's 1971 hit 'American Pie'.
Their sixth album has a lot to live up to after the intrigue of their last record. In 2021, The Vaccines took a career detour with fifth album Back In Love City – a fictionalised city concept album with a cinematic outlook, inspired by Ridley Scott’s version of LA in Blade Runner. The tunes were surreal, Spaghetti Western-inspired and archaic, though still maintaining the accompanying joyfulness of the West London band. Unsure where to go next, they've returned back to base for their more organic - albeit less ambitious - sixth album Pick-Up Full Of Pink Carnations.
A theme of loss runs throughout the album and was written while singer Justin Young was living in LA going through a loss of his own. The record also marks a change to the fortunes of the band being the first produced without original member and guitarist Freddie Cowan. The guitarist left the band before recordings began.
Album opener ‘Sometimes, I Swear’ begins proceedings on a more subdued note with Young struggling to find his place in the world. A minute long build up eventually lands on an explosive chorus spelling out loneliness and confusion (“Sometimes, I swear / It feels like I don’t belong anywhere” reflects Young in the chorus). These are feelings we’re perhaps not used to hearing from The Vaccines in such a visceral manner and is all the more welcomed for that reason.
Lead single and second album track ‘Heartbreak Kid’ is The Vaccines at their best, a rousing tune for those suffering heart ache to face their feelings head on. The anthemic chorus calls on the listener to embrace their pain, cleverly moving the two words into one: the track begins “Let your heart break, kid…” then later “oh, you never thought they’d leave, but they did / now everybody calls you the heartbreak kid”.
‘Discount De Kooning (Last One Standing)’ focuses more on groove than the tracks it follows and sticks out as a very instant highlight. Though does eventually become weary after a few listens. The jangly guitars, ‘80s synths and repeated lines “maybe we should keep on dancing / I feeling like something good is gonna happen” initially bring about the band’s desired feel-good intentions, but this is entirely surface level.
The opposite can be said of second half opener ‘Sunkissed’. The sixth track is a slower-burner, nostalgic Californian love song which slowly reveals itself with each listen. The singer reminisces back to a brief romantic fling and a time when he was growing his “beard to look like Dennis Wilson” of Beach Boys fame.
On ‘Another Nightmare’, the lyrics spells out break up, therapy and depression to a typically frenetic guitar sound we’ve become accustomed to from The Vaccines. They then save the euphoric high point of the record to penultimate track ‘The Dreamer’ which possesses positive poppy vibes: the post-chorus “oohs” deliver an instant earworm pay off.
Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations has nostalgia and melancholy at its heart with The Vaccines accompanying these woes with an energetic and hopeful sound. The elephant in the room, of course, is that this is a fairly predictable listen at points and quite a few tracks do lose interest the more you listen. As much fun as we have, it rarely engages on the same level as Back In Love City nor create the same excitement as their debut, for example.
I guess we’ll need to wait and see the long term value of The Vaccines new one, but in the meantime, there’s a lot to enjoy across this concise, 31-minute album. Especially for those already a fan of the band.
The tunes are hooky, the chorus soar and the charm throughout the record is palpable. Certainly enough for this long-term fan to be won over sixth time round.