Sound — 5
If you searched for the term "fast track," there's a good chance it would redirect you to The Vaccines. Perhaps their quickly-gained success was due to their practicing of 21st-century British indie rock being a guaranteed investment for fame, or perhaps it was due to the band's connection with Mumford & Sons and The Horrors bringing forth some great networking opportunities, but they've accomplished quite a lot in their five-year career. Signing with Columbia Records after only releasing one proper single prior, they would promptly fill their discography with their 2011 debut, "What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?," and their 2012 follow-up, "Come of Age." And having worked with The Strokes' Albert Hammond, Jr., and opened for A-list Brit-rockers Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines have gotten a fair share of blessings from their indie rock superiors.
Now on their third album, "English Graffiti," The Vaccines are starting to branch out from their original style, like the lot of other British indie rock bands that are moving away from a sound that's growing considerably stale. They haven't entirely abandoned their peppy indie rock style, as heard in the short and simple cuts "Handsome," "20/20" and "Radio Bikini"; they even try to elaborate upon it in the hipster disco rock song "Minimal Affection," but with its overdriven lead melody sounding very derivative of The Strokes, they prove to themselves how continuing to deal in indie rock may only end in being ouroboros.
The most noticeable style change heard in "English Graffiti" is The Vaccines trying their hand at the blues rock revival. While it's not a completely jarring change, considering the noisy shoegaze-inspired stuff heard in "What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?," the band shoots for safe territory, as heard in the big dumb paint-by-numbers riff in "Dream Lover," and the three arena-sized blues rock ballads (see "Want You So Bad," "Maybe I Could Hold You" and "Give Me a Sign") crafted in the same vein as Arctic Monkeys' "AM" - the poppy claps and falsetto chorus of "Maybe I Could Hold You" especially ring similar to "Do I Wanna Know?" Beyond this stressed attempt to get crowds to wave their lighters, though, the general style of "English Graffiti" shows a new songwriting initiative of sophistication via reservation, appreciating sparser arrangements peppered with peripheral elements (see "Denial"), as well as playing off gentleness to further amplify the heavy moments (like the bridge in "Want You So Bad" that dynamically shifts from soft chiming melodies to loud fuzzy dissonance).
Lyrics — 7
With the lyrics in the previous "Come of Age" putting a spectacle on frontman Justin Hayward-Young combing through his insecurities while trying to maintain a relationship that was arguably doomed to fail, "English Graffiti" shows something of an aftermath of that breakup, with Hayward-Young spending the vast majority of songs chronologizing his post-breakup depression. Starting at the depths of loneliness with the wistful fantasy of "Dream Lover" and the damaged-goods lonerism of "Minimal Affection" ("Is there anybody there? / You forget how to make a connection / When you've wanted one for so long"), Hayward-Young soon makes a Phoenixian rise from his pit of emotional despair, proclaiming himself over his former lover in the sunny-sounding "20/20" ("Living in your shadow has been too dramatic"), and then rebounding into a new love in "(All Afternoon) In Love," though it's only for the purpose of proving to this ex that he's moved on ("But I hope that I'll see you soon / Because I've fallen in love").
As that obsessive "look at how over you I am" message in the previous song reads between the lines, Hayward-Young's rise is desperate delusion, and as the aptly-named "Denial" shows, he's still plagued with unresolved feelings towards his ex. But after confessing his desire for reconnection in "Want You So Bad," it's his coming to terms with that feeling that levels his head out by the end of the record. Though his agenda still protrudes in the tender "Maybe I Could Hold You," the album finishes with him resigning to their separation and diplomatically telling his ex to let him know whenever she wants to reconnect in "Give Me a Sign." It's not a deeply profound story, but it's Hayward-Young's most mature one thus far.
Overall Impression — 5
Much like their late arrival to indie rock, The Vaccines are going through the motions of trendy, beaten-path sounds rather than paving their own way in "English Graffiti." Though the initiative to mix things up sonically is a good sign of potential expansion for The Vaccines, and there's some honest compositional growth to be found, the album's overbearing interest of keeping itself in the flavor-of-the-month renders itself bland. "English Graffiti" isn't terribly behind the curve, but it's nowhere near ahead of it, either - it's just somewhere in the innocuous, forgettable between.