It’s not long before lovable indie rockers, the Vaccines, are back with their fifth release, September the 10th’s Back in Love City. As part of the countdown here at Splendid Fred, we’re looking back at the band’s previous four long-plays (and their 2013 EP) and rummaging through every last musical nook and sonic cranny. They’ve had their fair share of hits and chart success. But now’s the time to recognise the group’s deeper cuts. Their hidden gold.
Honourable Mention – 11. ‘It’s All Good’, ‘If You Wanna’ B-side, 2011 – If the Vaccines’ seminal debut proved anything, it was that these boys meaned business. Their cleverly-crafted, cynical outlook at life and self-reflection made for some killer tunes; wreathed in unpolished, post-punk fuzz. It also proved that they were a formidable bunch when it came to outtakes, too, promising a slew of ‘worthy’ numbers in the chosen singles’ B-sides. ‘It’s All Good’ isn’t anything special, no, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad either. It earns its place as an honourable mention because, hey, it’s just a feelgood, summer anthem. It’s also the B-side for possibly the group’s biggest song to date. And it puts up a fight.
10. ‘Take It Easy’, Combat Sports, 2018 – The lyrics of ‘Take It Easy’ are lovably tongue-in-cheek (‘I wanna fly you to the moon/ But I don’t wanna pay for gas’), and the whole song feels somewhat childish. Not in a bad way – its simple structure, back-up vocals and jangly guitar simply create a mirage of something that’s not trying to be complex. It’s an album track, but it’s an infectious one. As the band’s latest album – at time of writing – Combat Sports is still looked upon as a superb wealth of outrageously stellar material (and it is), but sometimes it’s not all about ‘I Can’t Quit’ or ‘Put It On a T-Shirt’.
9. ‘Denial’, English Graffiti, 2015 – English Graffiti is revered by some and cursed by others. One thing is for sure; ‘Denial’ was probably the first song I ever heard from it, and I still can’t believe this one wasn’t chosen for the single treatment. It’s a real bipolar stomper; with Young’s quieter vocals pulling you into a false sense of security. Riiiiight before that guitar from Cowan kicks in and dreamlike shrieks enthrall you even further. Its lyrics sound personal, even for Justin, and it never ceases to amaze me. According to setlist.fm, it’s also never been played live. Never. Not even on Graffiti’s following tour. What the f**k?
8. ‘Radio Bikini’, English Graffiti, 2015 – When I first heard English Graffiti – oft cited as the group’s most underrated work – ‘Radio Bikini’ stood out to me in seconds. It epitomises the album (and perhaps the band itself to a certain extent); it’s a bite-sized chunk of playful, schoolboy swagger from Justin and thunderous, crashing noise. ‘But this is radio bikini, saying “don’t you wanna see me?”…’ is a particularly cacophonous moment, and makes for one of the group’s deepest cuts, lost amongst the slower numbers of side two. The Vaccines never play it, and that’s a shame. It packs all the fun and fleeting danger of ‘Wrecking Bar…’ or ‘Norgaard’, only with the distortion turned up to eleven.
7. ‘Possessive’, Come of Age (Deluxe), 2012 – One of Come of Age’s bonus tracks (available on the deluxe CD), ‘Possessive’ is Young divulging all, in a track that packs a biting chorus. I have no earthly idea why this was left off the final, complete album, but it makes for a nice surprise for the super-fan. It was played twice on the group’s promotional tour. Then subsequently dropped. Ah well.
6. ‘We’re Happening’, ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ B-side, 2011 – Another B-Side from the group’s debut (for ”), ‘We’re Happening’ is a naively adolescent statement toward a love intersest, and also kind of sums up the band’s early years. Much like ‘It’s All Good’, it’s no ‘If You Wanna’, but it’s not light years off. That revved-up guitar is contagious, and only the Vaccines can bring that kind of cure. Young gets to really let loose on the mic, and it is glorious. It was played heavily during the group’s early tours, but has dropped off the radar since.
5. ‘I Wish I Was A Girl’, Come of Age, 2012 – Perhaps the Vaccines’ most ‘elegant’ song? It sparks images of a graceful queen atop her chaise longue – perching one of those weird cigarette holders from scarlet lips. Not unlike the song’s inspiration, then (‘You walk into the room with refining poise/ Bewitching, enthralling all of the boys’). Here, Young sings about how sometimes, if you’re hot, life is just easy. And though it’s tough to tell whether that’s satirical observation or genuine foolishness, it sounds good regardless. Even if the last half is just frontman Justin listing off the most expensive brands he can think of. It’s a neat track. It’s been played twice live.
4. ‘Weirdo’, Come of Age, 2012 – ‘Weirdo’ took a while to grow on me. But when it did, it did. Come of Age may be skipped over, largely, by its creators, but it really does deserve more kudos. Especially in tracks like ‘Weirdo’ that showcase Young’s more savagely cynical side; towing the line between real-world self-assurance and something out of an Alfred Hitchcock villain’s diary. It’s fairly stripped-down for a Vaccines song, and even the vocals are deliciously indifferent. Live, too, it kicks ass, and should be brought out of the sleeve more onstage. Lovably strange – with a building chorus throughout that crashes into wailing chants, a la ‘Gold Dust Woman’.
3. ‘Under Your Thumb’, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?, 2011 – What Did You Expect… is like the indie-rock equivalent of Rumours. Every song on it has been turned over and inspected thoroughly to some extent. But people still focus on ‘Post Break-Up Sex’, ‘If You Wanna’ and ‘Norgaard’, leaving the cracks open to explore. ‘Under Your Thumb’ is jam-packed between one of the aforementioned hits and ‘All in White’, a real fan favourite. So it didn’t have much of a chance. But it’s just a really good, classic indie hit in the making, and when Young hits that last ‘Eleanour!’ at the two-minute mark, it’s nothing short of incredible. As far as I’m aware, it doesn’t see the light of day much anymore, and that sucks.
2. ‘Melody Calling’, Melody Calling, 2013 – With its dreamy chorus and back-up vocals calling from the ether, ‘Melody Calling’ is about as ‘soft’ as the Vaccines have ever gone. It’s certainly a far cry from even the lows of 2012’s Come of Age. And it’s also one of their best songs. It hits that sweet spot perfectly, and rolls on for barely three minutes like a blanket made of marshmallows. It’s also relatively unknown compared to the rest of the group’s canon, lost in their only extended play to date. It’s just a shame the rest of the EP failed to reach up to the titular track’s hype. Still, one to dive for – everything about it flawless.
1. ‘Family Friend’, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines, 2011 – It’s tough to tell whether this one is really a deep cut or not. Chosen as the visible closer for the band’s triumphant debut, it’s exactly the kind of song you would expect to be big at gigs. It clatters into a battering climax, it’s got soul, and allows all four/five members of the band to really show their chops. But I suppose that title also goes to ‘All In White’, and there could only ever be one.
Either way, ‘Family Friend’ really solidified to me – on first listen – that What Did You Expect… was nothing short of a miracle in modern music. ‘They’ve all got their opnions, but then what do they know?’ makes for a cryptic introduction, and it only gets better from there. It’s also, according to setlist.fm, the song played the least from the Vaccines’ first album (excluding ‘Somebody Else’s Child’). That is… blasphemy of the highest order. – this song is basically an entire night at the student union rolled into one. Predrinks incarnate.
So there. The ten most underrated tracks from the Vaccines. There were a few that very nearly came close (‘Rolling Stones’ from Combat Sports, for one, or ‘Aftershave Ocean’), but these, to me at least, scream out for more recognition and appreciation. They also provide a real testament to the group’s ability to write pretty flawless records. Judging by how little in the way of ‘filler’ the Vaccines have put to the CD, I genuinely cannot wait for their fifth album. If Back in Love City’s second side is even half as good as some of this stuff, we’re in for quite a treat.