Album Review: The Vaccines – Combat Sports

The Vaccines are back with their fourth studio album Combat Sports, charting in at #4 and nobody could be more excited than I. Releasing a new indie album can be a fairly thankless task. Journos, bloggers and fans are pretentious, reserved and obsessed with asking bands to prove they are not the Strokes or the Arctic Monkeys. So how are The Vaccines fairing?

After a rocky couple of years (including the departure of their drummer, Pete Robertson in 2016) LP4 seemed like a distant dream.

By summer of 2017, The Vaccines had successfully sourced themselves a new drummer (Yoann Intonti of indie power-pop band, Spector) and crowned the much loved Australian live member, Timothy Lanham, an official member of the band. From three members to five, the band were ready for a strong come back and a glimmer of hope emerged as they played brand new material at several festivals last year. Footage of the new material was devoured and fans desperately anticipated an album.

In November, the album was given a name, a date was set, album art was published, and a very long-awaited tour was announced.

Over the past 3 months, one by one, The Vaccines have drip-fed song at a time from Combat Sports. Their first single, I Can’t Quit came accompanied with a gritty music video featuring Staffordshire terriers, blood, fresh linen and culminated ominously with one man down. As is the Vaccines way, it coupled upbeat melodies with a darker underlay. In addition to this, each of their following singles was released with a very special 80s style Top of the Pops live music video, delivering not only a delightful sound but a full package of aesthetics and influences. What a treat!

After releasing 5 delicious singles from their upcoming album, the full collection finally arrived on 30th March – and what a Good Friday it turned out to be! I would be lying if I said I didn’t wait up for a listen in the early hours.

Euphoric power-pop

Whilst rumours hinted LP4 may see a stylistic revisit to the snappy indie pop of their debut, there’s certainly no repeated material here. WDYEFTV? was a collection of rough dance-worthy garage whilst Combat Sports is clean-cut, sharp and triumphant. It’s undoubtedly their most poppy sound yet.  The melodies aren’t just catchy, the lyrics are also punchy and depressingly victorious with every ingredient of a classic anthem.

It’s hard to pick out a climax on the record when nearly every track is bulging with euphoria. The album opens with Put it on a T-shirt, admittedly, more power-croon than power-pop but no less infectious than its consequent tracks. The record speeds up as it delivers their elated first single I Can’t Quit followed by Your Love is My Favourite Band, a blind profession of love and possibly the most addictive track on the album. Surfing in the Sky is confidently fierce and maintains a quick tempo before Maybe (Luck of the Draw) brings us down a peg – floaty, reflective and dazzlingly synthy.

When interviewed for Radio X, Justin said that his favourite track from the album was Young American. This will never be a classic power-pop anthem, but nonetheless it is an extremely important track. Young American is the sort of track that wouldn’t usually make a Vaccines A-side, but I’m so glad it did. On first listen, the lyrics are hard hitting and a touch surreal yet intensely emotional (‘suffocate me in between your thighs and take me swimming naked in your eyes). Whilst the band have proven they’re more than capable of pulling off slower tracks (such as Wetsuit and English Graffiti) Justin’s ability to perform such a delicate vocal range is rarely showcased. Young American is the sound of an open wound and yet insanely comforting. It’s no easy listen, but it’ll be there for you when you’re feeling tender.

With the arrival of Nightclub, the album turns from self-absorbing comfort to an unexpected punch in the face. Much like the ear-ringing assault of hangover, Nightclub is a sonic boot camp; an aggressive riff, an ominous bass, a fierce vocal delivery and a brutally rhythmic drum assembly. It is a fast-paced delivery of chaotic thoughts within a focused soliloquy. This track is the epitome of Combat Sports.

If Nightclub is a boot camp, Out On the Street is an apologetic muscle rub.  And like any post night-out hangover cure, it’s a back handed apology if ever there was one – ‘I thought of her, I thought of you, I thought it through and then I called you’. Listen to this track with a sensitive ear and you’ll hear an open and innocent vulnerability, but it can also be enjoyed by carelessly belting out the lyrics in the early hours of a house party or on the long, cramped drive to your next festival. A true Vaccines anthem.

On first impression Take it Easy was my personal favourite. It encompasses all that is good about both classic nostalgic power-pop and current indie-pop. Sonically, it’s a cross between Status Quo’s Rocking All Over The World, and Metronomy’s The Look. Whilst The Look takes me right back to folding away a wet tent in the dark at Glasto ‘17, Take It Easy takes me back to Saturday afternoons in the 90s, dancing around the back room on a beige floral carpet. It reeks nostalgia and yet it’s as original as they come. Take It Easy is a self-conscious track (that’s the problem with people like me) that gives a nod to naïve ambition (I wanna be a star and I want to make it rain/ give me words of wisdom but don’t let me take the class). The tone is self-deprecating (standard Vaccines) yet bashfully accepting of youthful, try-hard ignorance. It’s a salute to everything that we once thought cool and permission to chill out and forgive ourselves. In five years’ time it will comfort me as I look back on my sincerely chosen hipster glasses. And this very piece of writing.

The penultimate track, Someone to Lose is another glorious track, riddled with relatable nostalgia, to belt out your car window, though an incredibly humbled predecessor to the finale. Rolling Stones, is more of a victory march than an ending. The melodies are wholly triumphant with a sound that incorporates a synthesizer turn church organ, a solid base drum and most importantly an absolutely gut-busting guitar riff. It’s the closest thing to a power ballad that the band have ever put out. If the bombastic Give Me A Sign ended English Graffiti on a question mark, Rolling Stones confidently ends Combat Sports like a self-written eulogy to their most colourful album yet.

Pre-sale bundle

combat sports package.jpg
Image description: the contents of The Vaccines – Combat Sports album bundle laid out on a golden wood background. Top left, a square vinyl record sleeve featuring the top half of a man led down holding the hand of a person who is out of shot. He has two rings on his hand. His face is out of shot except for his mouth. He has dark brown curly hair. He wears a leather jacket and a t-shirt that says ‘combat sports’. Across the top of the album it says ‘The Vaccines’ in orange. The top left album is signed five times. Top right is a audio cassette with the same cover as the record sleeve and bottom left is a CD with the same cover again. The CD is also signed five times. Bottom right is another vinyl record sleeve, the identical to the first, without signatures.

The Vaccines offered some delightful packages to choose from on pre-ordering Combat Sports including tapes, CDs, limited addition coloured vinyl and a special .zip file of demo tracks. I ordered one of everything, not least because it gave me* access to pre-sale tickets to Ally Pally and their tour. The demos are pretty interesting, so if you didn’t pre-order… unlucky.

*should have given me access.

 

 

 

I’ll be seeing the band live at Manchester Academy on Monday and Ally Pally on Saturday – gig review inevitably to follow!

 

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