Perhaps the hardest band to google and get reliable information on at the moment, The Vaccines are back with their fifth album, Back in Love City, a fun and energised exploration from a band that has always been capable of creating solid, reliable and catchy rock. Coming three years after their fourth album Combat Sports, The Vaccines are now that one mid-tier English band who will always seemingly come through with the goods irrespective of the situation and vibe the world is pumping out.
There’s a new level of recklessness from the band on Back in Love City that they’ve previously hidden in plain view. Yeah, they’re a rock band first and foremost who play catchy and killer live sets. But beyond these catchy 3-minute tracks, it has always felt like the band are on the precipice of throwing caution to the wind and releasing an album that will challenge their status quo. Back in Love City is the band jumping off that precipice and leaning into something entirely new and exciting. You wouldn’t call it a reinvention, but Back in Love City showcases layers of abandon The Vaccines have only previously touched on and shown glimpses of.
First track and titular “Back in Love City” is the first hint the album isn’t going to follow the path of previous releases. With a rock-opera feel to it, “Back in Love City” is frontman Justin Young‘s opportunity to create a world within the album filled with the chaotic energy you’d expect of cities like Las Vegas. The song, with angular guitars, a pulsating drum beat and Young’s instantly recognisable vocals, is a welcome albeit surprising intro to the album. Taking such a leap from their previous work was a risk, but ultimately works in the band’s favour. The chaotic vibes continue on “Alone Star”, a three minute charmer with a strong horn section in its chorus. With its almost spaghetti western tone and guitar work, “Alone Star” feels like the style of song the band should look to pursue moving forward.
A fan-favourite in waiting and festival-ready moment closes out the first quarter of Back in Love City, in the form of “Headphones Baby”. The first love song of the album (matched with one of the best rhymes of the album – thesaurus/ bore us), Young is clear in wanting to create a world for he and his love, all the while keeping the summery vibes alive across the song’s run. An early standout, I have no doubt this will be a staple in live sets for years to come. The escapism continues on “Wanderlust” as the band turn the dial up a little in the chorus, while Young’s delivery really begins to assert itself on the album. It feels like the band went into the recording session of “Wanderlust” with the mantra of ‘what’s the most bizarre song we can make that still sounds like us?’ And honestly, if this is how they made the song, it bloody works.
The cantering of the chorus on “Paranormal Romance” mirrors the sounds of “I Always Knew”, a standout from their second album Come of Age, while the slightly western vibes continue on “El Paso” (it actually reminds me a bit of fellow British act Mystery Jets and their song “Sister Everett”. Give it a listen if you’ve got the time). If there were any songs on Back in Love City that the band has phoned in or not tested the waters on it very well could be “Jump off the Top”. By no means a bad song, it’s actually incredibly catchy but probably the one song on the album that could have featured on any of the previous albums and you wouldn’t have questioned its place. If anything, the quality of “Jump off the Top” showcases the risks and relative strengths taken on Back in Love City.
The album does begin to slow down in its second half with less risks taken (or at least compared to the first half). The swooning closer “Pink Water Pistols” will sit snuggly as the first song of an encore as the crowd waits patiently for the full-blown bangers of previous albums. It’s a pretty song that just floats by without really adding too much depth to the album. While not the longest album of the year at thirteen tracks, it does feel like a couple of songs could have been culled, with songs like “Heartland” feeling a little superfluous to the needs of the rest of the album. With that in mind, there is enough in the second half of the album (“XCT” has a pleasant level of manic and raggedness to it, while “Savage” jumps back into the overly chaotic themes of the album) to make Back in Love City work.
While probably not their most accessible or complete album, Back in Love City showcases The Vaccines pushing new boundaries and a willingness to not be pigeonholed as one of the great white-hopes of the British press. Back in Love City is a fun and reliable listen from The Vaccines which maybe in years to come will be a lot easier to search on the internet.