Formed eight years ago in West London, The Vaccines quickly became a household name in the UK, earning the number one album for the year in 2011 and high praise in the media for their guitar-driven garage rock. They have rock cred in spades, having drawn comparisons to The Ramones and opening gigs for rock staples like the Arctic Monkeys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and even the Rolling Stones. While their success gave them the chance to make three albums and tour with the best, the Vaccines experienced growing pains and struggled with constant comparisons to past artists.
With the release of their fourth studio album Combat Sports, the Vaccines return from their three-year-long hiatus with a rejuvenated sound and adjusted lineup; this album is the first they’ve released since the departure of drummer Pete Robertson. Touring members Tim Lanham (keyboard) and Yoann Intonti (drums) have since joined lead vocalist Justin Hayward, lead guitarist Freddie Cowan, and bassist Arni Arnason as permanent members for the next stage of their career. For their latest work, they drew influence from polished ‘70s and ‘80s rock, marrying the energy of their earlier garage rock with the melodic catchiness of indiepop.
Thematically, fans will be happy to hear that the album sticks close to what the Vaccines have been singing about since they started: sex and love. “Sex and love, and love lost. I really I became very self-aware a couple of years ago. I was insecure about the fact that all I sung about was sex and love. I realised it’s all I care about. So I’ve kind of come to terms with that.” Young explained in an interview with NME. There’s something entirely freeing about knowing what you’re all about and not caring to change for anyone, and that something comes through in Combat Sports. The album feels energetic, loud, and natural, creating a fun listening experience.
The album opens with the love song “Put It On a T-shirt,” a love song that can best be described as Bob Dylan meets Vampire Weekend, with lyrics like “My ego sang me lullabies and my conscience sang the blues.” The song explores the camaraderie that comes with being in love–people may not always have the best opinions, but now they can say it about two people instead of one. The nostalgic “Your Love is My Favorite Band” is a similar case, though with more of an ‘80s flair in the synth, brightening up the instrumentation. The vibrant, bouncy sound of “Put It On a T-shirt” and “Your Love is My Favorite Band” make it feel like the Vaccines are campaigning for a spot on an indie romcom soundtrack–and succeeding.
The love songs might keep the energy up on Combat Sports, but the album’s lead single takes it to another level entirely. Arguably the best and most radio-friendly from the album, “I Can’t Quit” is a rollicking, shout-ridden break up song that demands a singalong. The true success of the song (besides its catchiness) is in its versatility; you can easily see yourself yelling along to it in the car, cheering to it at a stadium, and watching it be abused by commercials in the future–in fact, the NCAA used it in its Final Four commercials just this past weekend.
Interestingly, there’s only one slower song on the album; Combat Sports takes a breather with “Young American,” a soft, languid track reminiscent of “The Only Ones Who Know” by the Arctic Monkeys all about desire and devotion. Rather than interrupt the flow of an exuberant, frisky album, “Young American” provides the perfect break to lead into the frenetic energy of the album’s second half.
However, the Vaccines haven’t abandoned their quintessential garage rock sound entirely; longtime Vaccines fans will find their punk-ish roots on tracks like the Ramones-esque ode to escaping your problems “Surfing in the Sky” and the frenetic nostalgia of “Nightclub.” The latter, which appears to nod towards Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” has the band chasing intense guitar riffs and drumbeats while examining more frivolous relationships of the past. “You can’t fight fire with the feeling of desire,” Hayward sings, sharing newfound wisdom. While the lackadaisical “Take It Easy” might have more indiepop flair in its sound, the sarcastic edge to the lyrics earns punk stripes.
Combat Sports proves to be another dynamic album for the Vaccines, one with a fresh spin. Their new indiepop flair cooperates with their heavy guitars and punk attitude towards love in order to freshen up their sound, infusing new life into their songs. This perfect blend of garage rock and indie-pop is sure to lure in both new and old fans looking for songs to brighten up their playlists for the spring and summer–especially album highlights “I Can’t Quit,” “Your Love is My Favorite Band,” and “Nightclub,” which will take up residence in your head long after you’ve listened to them.