In interviews, members of The Vaccines have said they're making music for the moment, with the understanding that it may well lose its luster within a few years or even months. In the case of the band's third full-length album, English Graffiti, that means jettisoning post-punk thrash in favor of a sturdier sound with which The Vaccines' members seem close and comfortable: Top 40 pop from the early to mid-'80s.
It doesn't take long for English Graffiti to settle into its groove. Two minutes in, the same lo-res guitar crunch that Freddie Cowan uses to usher in "Handsome" enters a slow, sultry burn through the heavy opening chords of "Dream Lover." But even that song's booming production and doomy riffs can't conceal singer Justin Young's ulterior motives: big radio balladry, in the vein of REO Speedwagon or Peter Cetera-era Chicago. Just flip the arrangement and the song would have flown on FM stations across the country throughout the summer of '86.
That idea of subverting a snotty, late-era electro-noise palette with evergreen influences continues in "Denial" — which is two fuzz pedals away from the band America's big hit "Magic" — or in "Minimal Affection," which nicks the drum pattern from Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" and gets lost in cottony, loping rhythms that recall Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back." The band still makes time to disrupt the flow with spiny pop racers like "20/20" and "Radio Bikini," but English Graffiti still sounds firmly entranced with an earlier generation, not to mention an easier time to exist as a band on a major label.
Just about everything here is utterly catchy, making English Graffiti feel like a truly transitional moment for The Vaccines. Why else write a song like the ropey, sun-dappled "(All Afternoon) In Love," which could have been performed by Leo Sayer or Air Supply in a different time? There's more to this transformation than the group lets on, and the answers are hidden throughout this pleasant, surprising, melancholy album.
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