The Vaccines prove they're still in their peak with 'Back In Love City'
Why the West London indie band's fictionalised city concept fifth studio album is up there with their best work a decade into their career.
Seeing The Vaccines live is an unmissable experience for any fan of British indie rock. Thankfully for me, I was able to (finally) see them for the first time at the Benicassim Festival in Spain in July 2016. An audience made of 30% Spaniards and 70% Brits sang their hearts out, collectively jumping up and down in unison to the sounds of the West London band's brilliant first three albums.
Over the past decade, The Vaccines have established themselves as one of the biggest and best British indie bands. With guitar bands seemingly disappearing from the radio waves and into the underground, they've swam against the music mainstream tide to make a name for themselves as a consistent and accessible indie rock artist.
Having finished third in BBC's Sound of 2011 poll, they released their debut What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? in what feels like a lifetime ago now, back in March 2011. It entered the Official Albums Chart at number 4 and was lauded for its energetic, indie rock hooks and anthems, proving there still to be room for a guitar rock in the mainstream. They'd further their appeal on future releases, allowing anticipation to grow through lockdown for what was to come next.
On 10 September 2021, The Vaccines released their fifth studio album Back In Love City, their first in three and a half years since 2018's Combat Sports. After their underwhelming March covers EP release Cosy Karaoke, Vol. 1, they've provided us with a fantastic new record with plenty of surprises.
The new album is amongst the bands most ambitious, with a cinematic outlook and fictional city concept inspired by Ridley Scott's version of LA in Blade Runner and Comboy Beebop's Fear City. Whilst there's still a sense of the old indie bangers that we've become accustomed to from the London four-piece, there's an Ennio Morricone, country-western influence which adds so much character throughout.
The album begins by reminding us of why The Vaccines are considered one of this generation's most radio-friendly indie bands. The addictive refrains of "We can't love 'cause we spent all on you" and "Saving up, now we're back Love City' on title track 'Back in Love City' reveal their enduring accessibility. 'Alone Star' and 'Headphones Baby' follow The Vaccines indie banger template and are bound to be favourites on next year's arena tour.
'Wanderlust' kicks off with a mysterious, western-style riff before descending into a delicious, dirty riff and heavier vibe which you can imagine Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme being proud of. The unpredictable chaos contradicts greatly to the cleaner cut order of before and it mixes things up wonderfully.
Midway track 'El Paso' is a dreamy, Americana delight, again, exploring a concept of alienation: "I can't relax between the cracks, baby / who wants to live like this?". It splits the album up beautifully and reminds us of the depth on offer. 'Peoples' Republic of Desire' features the most explosive riff on the record, whilst the ominous and raucous 'XTC' is another mid-album, energetic treat.
Penultimate track 'Heart Land' is as sweet as it is nostalgic, with lead singer Justin Young declaring "I'm not giving up on my love for you, America". He goes back to his younger days when he represented the country purely with innocent pop culture references like The Simpsons, Coca Cola and Michael Jordan.
Speaking to Apple Music, Justin Young was keen to point out his thinking behind the song:
"This is the one song I’ve been worried about people taking the wrong way. But I hope that it’s obvious that it’s being written from this quite naive, optimistic perspective of this 13-year-old English boy who’s never been to America before, but has grown drunk on a diet of American pop culture. It’s less about commenting on where America has ended up and more about trying to capture that feeling of where I once thought it was."
'Pink Water Pistols' feels like an appropriate ending, showcasing Young's talents as a sharp and quirky songwriter ("Can't call a cab and I can't read your reply / The Tower of London cut off my free Wi-Fi"). On a record so full of twists, turns and despair, its slow tempo and warm production result in the record departing on a peacefully pleasant note.
Back in Love City is as stimulating as it is charismatic. It's an effortlessly fun record with plenty of groove and thrills to go around. Justin Young's surreal and despair filled lyricism is complemented so well by the country-western and anarchic work of bandmates Freddie Cowan, Arni Arnason and Pete Robertson. Collectively, they're playing an absolute blinder, achieving soundscapes to support their cinematic city conceptual theme.
For a band to still be in their peak a decade on is an achievement in itself and it's a collection of songs that deserves all the acclaim coming it's way.
What a joyful ride. I'll definitely be letting my mind escape again back to Love City.