Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Vaccines create a conceptual mosaic on new album ‘Back In Love City’

Over the course of the five singles released in the lead-up to this new album, the work The Vaccines had put in over lockdown was clear to see. 

The indie-pop stalwarts, however, have continued to excite with their latest album, ‘Back In Love City’. After eleven years and five albums, The Vaccines show no sign of slowing down as they grow to greater heights. 

Standing just shy of 46 minutes long, ‘Back In Love City’ brings the trademark immediacy that we’ve grown to know and love from The Vaccines and transports you through a futuristic adventure traversing the complex dystopian/utopian fictitious world of Love City. 

The album wastes no time at all as you’re launched into the title track, filled with strong percussion paired with Cowan’s Morricone-esque guitar riffs and Justin Young’s crooning vocals as the scene is immediately set. Developed further on the next track, ‘Alone Star’, underpinned by warm, bright horns in tandem with another Spaghetti Western guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Wayne movie. 

Unadulterated indie-pop wonder, ‘Headphones Baby’ follows, dancing between the visual euphoric utopian vibrance of Love City, while lyrically the song is sprinkled with juxtaposing irony that is easily missed due to Youngs succinct wit with lines such as “The morning hit me like a violent crime would”. Despite this, the chorus pines for a Hollywood romance (I wanna die together like we’re movie stars / […] / And they’ll bury us in leather at Hollywood Forever) yet the verse’s highlight the disconnect hinted throughout the LP. “I want attention on one dimension / Just do the moonwalk out of small talk” suggests the impact these new ‘dimensions’ have had on our comfort in social interactions and our ability to simply pay attention. 

‘Headphones Baby’s radio-ready spirit is a momentary break before The Vaccines launch into the first of many heavy moments, some of the heaviest in the band's entire discography. Stand out track, ’Wanderlust’ is a winding journey hinged on Young’s heavily distorted vocals compound by a gritty sonic reevaluation of their earlier work with an impossibly catchy fuzzy guitar riff. Horns, whistles, and an essence of mariachi linger in the back as you’re catapulted to a sparse desert plain.

Paranormal Romance” is an intertextual amalgamation of pop-culture references utilised as nostalgic self-criticism, as Young laments “And now the futures here / I’m nobody”. This track marks the dystopian return displayed in the opening tracks of the album, as the protagonist searches for a companion to escape with, idealising a variety of 90s fictional characters. 

Television shows from the 1990s sit as far away from the world The Vaccines have created on this LP. With emotions fleeting, nostalgia and yearning for childhood are inevitable. 

Tying in with a departure from high tempos, ‘El Paso’ is perfectly placed around the middle of the album, working as a sonic palate cleanse before the immense surf pop-banger that is ‘Jump Off The Top’. ‘El Paso’ allows a calmer, more direct analysis of mixed feelings. Here lie highlight lyrics as Young addresses the quick-fix nature of emotions gained and lost through virtual transactions with the inquiring chorus; “How can you say that we’re okay, baby? / Who wants to live like this?”. 

Talking with Apple Music, Justin Young discussed how there’s “a theme across the record of fatalism. […] wanting to throw caution to the wind”, ‘Off The Top’ is the antithesis of this theme. The track lays out wildly tongue in cheek actions simply for the sake of genuine emotional evocation; “Lets do a headstand / Do it in the quicksand / For the conversation / And the stimulation”, while ‘XCT’ sees the band experiment with warping sirens and thin screamed vocals in an acronym heavy chorus. The lore of Love City grows once again on ‘Bandit’ and ‘Peoples’ Republic of Desire’ as emotional theft and revolution spark a gritty riot of immediacy. ‘Savage’ utilises the altered perspective Love City creates as mentions of religion are dissected and applied to relationships in this shiny glam rock moment.

Hopeful naïvety shines through on the penultimate track ‘Heart Land’. From the perspective of a 13-year-old boy who dreams over an America he knows through pop culture. Yearning to visit this mystical far-off land filled with “Milkshake and fries / Dogs that can surf”. A youthful perspective on themes showcased on ‘Paranormal Romance’. ‘Pink Water Pistols’ draws the album to a close with an earnest desire to change, grow and exist as a genuine individual, away from the artificial reality created in this neon dystopia. 

‘Back In Love City’ is perfect evidence of the band's ability to succinctly provide social commentary while creating a dense metropolis to explore without ever sacrificing enjoyability. 

The Vaccines have created a tapestry, rich with electric euphoria and an all too relatable doubt in their most accomplished album to date.

Dan Hayes


Image: The Vaccines Official Album Cover (PRESS)

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