In just a couple of weeks this year’s nominees for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize will be announced. This prize is given yearly for the Best British Album as chosen by a group of musicians and executives as an alternative to the regular Brit Awards. The early frontrunner to win the prize is PJ Harvey for her album Let England Shake. Other names mentioned as being good bets are Wild Beasts, James Blake, and the ubiquitous Adele. Last year I correctly predicted the winner would be the xx, and that wasn’t a big shock. But this year I’m rooting for a dark horse. I’m looking for an upset so big, it’ll make Radiohead’s OK Computer losing to RoniSize’s New Forms look like a good call. That’s right folks. The Vaccines should win this years Mercury Prize.
Now, granted, it has a lot working against it. Let England Shake was released in February but feels like it’s been out for a year, so the panelists have had plenty of time to digest the album. The Vaccines record came out a month later, (it’s only been out a few weeks in the states) and on the surface it doesn’t scream greatness. It’s definitely an album that needs to be listened to more than once. Often I find that in it’s simplicity it says much more than anything James Blake has done. The Vaccine’s also haven’t taken hold on the pop charts like superstar Adele. Not that the Mercury Prize panel is overly concerned with hitmakers. In 1996 they chose Pulp’s album Different Class over radio-friendly sensations Oasis and Mark Morrison (not to mention a great album by Manic Street Preachers).
Another thing about The Vaccine’s album that may force the panel to shy away is the fact that there is nothing quintessentially British about it. In fact, the only way I could tell it was a British album at all was that at times it sounded as though they were melding Coldplay and The Cribs together to create their sound. There aren’t any obvious references to life in England or any references at all that would make one think, “Jesus, this guy is British as hell.”
It’s this universal relatability that I enjoy most about What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? You don’t have to be British or Scottish to understand the songs because they’re about things everyone goes through. The Vaccines aren’t the only band making brilliant music that appeals to the masses, but they seem to be doing it in such a basic form that makes me believe anyone is capable of making great music.
Most of the highlights from the album come in the second half of the record. “Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” is a great starter to get you into the groove The Vaccines create. The lyrics on this, and most of the songs, are highly repetitive. The beginning of the album is more of a straight-ahead party album. Big hooks and choruses outweighing the lyrical content on that first track. But the album takes a turn from Ramones-style rock to a more introverted style that I find quite compelling almost immediately.
Tracks 2 and 3 deal with loss and regret (or lack thereof) after a breakup. No new ground is broken here, but the music and honest lyrics make for really strong songs. The third one, “A Lack of Understanding,” is one of my favorites from the record. An awkward meeting between former lovers leads the scorned one to ask some biting questions:
How’s it been for you?
Does it feel like a lifetime too?
What would you do now in light of it all?
Are you ready, are you ready, are you ready for this?
Should I shake your hand or should I give you a kiss?
Is this everything you always hoped it would be?
The middle of the record is my least favorite section, though the songs are still fun and more than listenable. The last five songs are the real meat to tear into, starting with the song “Post Breakup Sex.” It’s been in the charts in the UK already, and if it ever got played on the airwaves here in the states, I think people would respond favorably. The music is guitar-driven, but light enough so as to not cast too gloomy a feeling over an already dark song.
The final song on the album, “Family Friend,” is one that I find endlessly interesting. Reading the lyrics and listening to the song, I’m pretty sure I get it, but I could be wrong. It seems to be about a friend trying to help someone cope with sexual abuse, but maybe I’m hearing things at the surface and not really comprehending. It’s strangely a very sweet song, comforting in a way.
What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? turns out to be exactly the opposite of what I had expected. The NME hype machine has been in full effect on this band, due to some prior notoriety for lead singer Justin Young, who used to perform under the name Jay Jay Pistolet. Guitarist Freddie Cowan is also known because his brother is in another good band, The Horrors. So when I picked up the album, I was expecting another retread of Whater People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. This record is definitely not that, and I am forever grateful.
The Vaccines will be hitting stages in the US this summer, appearing at festivals like Lollapalooza, and touring with the band Tennis. I have tickets to their Lolla aftershow at Schubas, which is now sold out. If you get the opportunity, pick up this record (only 6.99 on iTunes) and listen to it all the way through a couple times. I doubt you’ll be asking for your money back.
On a sidenote, there’s another band from the UK that doesn’t get enough exposure, so I’m tacking them on here at the end, because there are a couple songs by The Vaccines that remind me of them. That band is We Were Promised Jetpacks. Go to YouTube and check them out a bit. They’re working on their next album right now, so soon I’ll be able to hear some new songs. I’ve been listening to the 17 or so tracks I have now for the past three years.