As long art exists in this world, you can count on the fact that art criticism will come along with it. And as long as there is something concrete to be assessed, it is pretty much guaranteed that someone will stand up a podium and say, with full pompous confidence, “This sucks”, regardless of how much this relative truth stands. Last year, when English indie rock band The Vaccines dropped their tongue in cheek debut What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, we loved it. Tunes like “Post Break-Up Sex”, “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” and “Blow It Up” hailed back to a classic era of post-punk in an exciting and fresh way. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve blown my car’s speakers blasting these songs with four friends in the back seat all singing along at the top of their lungs. But critics who have no concept of fun all said nearly the same thing: “It’s been done”. Now, a year has passed, and after endless touring (including a stint opening for Arctic Monkeys), releasing Charlie Sheen influenced single “Tiger Blood”, and doing lots of introspection, The Vaccines are back with something very different.
Come of Age is a concept album above all else. At the heart of Come of Age is exactly that which the Vaccines have now heard a thousand times: it’s been done, and you aren’t going to be able to do it better. In lead single “No Hope”, Justin Young tells it like it is. “Oh I could look for inspiration, find it in the charm of an English station, but wouldn’t that be cheap and ill-informed? And I could bet you don’t believe me if I said it came from deep within me, but I promise you I’m telling you the truth”. The bright guitars and addictive hook of this single are completely counteracted by Young’s seriously bleak sarcasm. Similar things happen on second single “Teenage Icon”. “Look at me so ordinary no mystery with no great capability but I could make out as if I had it. But you know, god I’m so obvious, and I should let it go… I’m no teenage icon, I’m no Frankie Avalon, I’m nobodys hero”. What the hell happened to “Ra ra ra ra wrecking bar”? Welcome to Come of Age. Sure, it’s chock full of sugary guitars, plenty of British invasion and post-punk influence, and more of the same excellent pop songwriting. But lyrically, Come of Age is a sad realization of what the music industry is really all about. As a young band, the Vaccines once held the naive bliss that if you do what you love doing, people will understand what you are doing and enjoy it. But unfortunately, as you grow up, you realize that people are all driven by their own intentions. If a negative review means more readers, then that’s probably what you are going to get. If the industry is moving away from your sound, you’d better adapt or else you will be thrown out with the bathwater.
There’s plenty of adolescent references throughout this record (the cover, for instance). “I Wish I Was A Girl” complains that life is easier for girls since they are “easy on the eyes”. “Weirdo” pines for love amongst self-loathing, as Young tries to convince his crush that he’s not that weird. “Bad Mood” is a post-punk throw down with a very straightforward message, as the title implies. But these songs aren’t moments of lazy songwriting or misguided vision – they are just continuing the motif. When you grow up, you try and hide your real feelings because you realize that people might not accept you if you show them. The same thing is often true for bands. After a well accepted debut, many acts are pressured into doing what they expect people to like instead of doing what they really want to do. What did you expect from the Vaccines this time around? Whatever it was, it wasn’t Come of Age. But maybe the band is trying to teach you a lesson you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. And really, it’s not a bad lesson to learn. You’ll still get quite a good time out of it.
Come of Age was released this past Tuesday, October 2, on Columbia Records. For a preview, you can listen to the album in full here.