Single Review: The Vaccines – ‘Wetsuit’

“A fanfare celebration of festivals and the serendipitous unity that the music brings all those who attend”

3 STARS

Digital Release: December 11, 2011 [double A-Side with ‘Tiger Blood’]

Physical Release: N/A

Some trite indie bands try to hard to be some kind of collectively omniscient group of sages with their music-as-music-criticism. Others brave far less actively perilous territory (and thereby somewhat side-stepping the possibility of being stamped with the unwanted label of “pretentious”) and exclusively record songs that will only come to life when they’re wailed over a field of spectators all jumping up and down in near-perfect unison. Both feats are accomplishable, they’re even easier to spot, but there’s nothing guaranteed about the extent to which the song will sound any good.

It doesn’t take much to realise then, that The Vaccines are a festival act. On an album they sound inhibited, constricted, and slightly gasping for air even though there was plenty of time for a nice coffee break during recording. Their exhaustive methods of recapturing their live fervency has been dwindled in the wake of a claustrophobic production fattened out with big drums and sing-along chorus. The snag is though, try as they might, the album track, and now single, that best suits the reverberating expanse of a large-scale festival show – ‘Wetsuit’ – just can’t live up to it’s live cousin. It ticks all the necessary boxes to get to crowed rallying and cheering, but there’s a disappointing frigidness about it’s execution.

You then expand this to The Vaccines as a band. Live, they put on a good show, but they’re nothing revolutionary. They’re not irrelevant, per se, but they’re not inspiring initiators of anything particularly exclusive to them either; their importance in music is little more than an additional footnote in the smallest possible font size at the bottom of a compère’s list of performers. Their music can be called out frequently as indie-by-numbers and can be personified by their often hyper-generic lyrics that far younger and prettier bands would be expected to clunk out. In fact, a whole album of The Vaccines sounds less like continuous fire from superlative musical abilities and more like listening to a scrutinising checklist of everything you should hear on a album from a band like The Vaccines, written by The Vaccines. The album doesn’t ask you ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ for nothing. Another, perhaps more commendable accolade to supposedly being a cleverly cynical indie band is that they’ve produced an album that understood you just as much as you wanted to be understood, not asking to be admired as anything but a periodical collection of songs, with the exception of the kind plea that you didn’t mind waiting for another album. That said, there are glimpses of some unknown and unachievable prestige in the candour and bluntness of some of the songs. They lead you to believe they might actually know what they’re doing here. I feel that ‘Wetsuit’ is an example of this. Throughout the song, there’s only minor, teasing little reminders that even though the band enjoy being able to sing about things bands ten years younger than them have trouble simply speaking about, they’ve got far more musical savvy up their sleeves. In fact, the lyrics, if we ignore the head-scratching chorus, are some of their best yet – the middle eight surpasses all expectation as it casually ponders and solves it’s own pressing dilemma – “Does holy water make you pure?/Submerged, your vision’s just obscured”. That’s top notch antidisestablishmentarianism right there, Justin.

‘Wetsuit’s is a fanfare celebration of festivals and the serendipitous unity that the music brings all those who attend, and though it tries little more than over-indulgent cymbal crashes towards the end to create a grandiose feel, the gradual crescendo and gently cascading drum section do well to big up the song from it’s otherwise limp recorded flaccidness.

 

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