Released: 10th September 2021
Five albums in, and The Vaccines have escaped. Both literally to the Texan desert and metaphorically – ’Back In Love City’ is largely set in a fictional pleasure city. At this point, it almost feels like anywhere to keep dodging those difficult questions about what we expected from them will do. Happily, those expectations are both matched in both quality and surprise on a record that is perhaps, whisper it, their best since that debut.
From the big shiny disco ball that the title-track feels like onwards, Justin and the gang have rediscovered what their biggest strength always was – planetary sized pop choruses and unforgettable earworm hooks. ‘Headphones Baby’ and ‘Jump Off The Top’ could sit amongst their very best (no faint praise that), while ‘Wanderlust’ is them at their very heaviest. They simply feel alive in a way that is always a pleasant surprise a decade into a career that went so stratospheric so fast. ‘Paranormal Romance’ and ‘El Paso’ play with the template, the former indebted to Johnny Cash and carrying the band off towards glory. You half expect the crack of a whip and pistol crack, while the latter, quietly emotional (written on one of Elliott Smith’s guitar no less), shows that they’re not afraid to take the foot off the pedal when it suits.
This is traditionally well past the point of a band living on past glories, when at best you hope for a couple of single bangers to smuggle into a festival greatest hits slot. Far from it here. And though there’s a sense that amongst all the tweaking of any Vaccines formula they know what works best, it’s still a bold record that leans into its origin and new surroundings. Not everything lands, but that’s ok – the majority is swaggering and confident, any risks involved in looking in a new direction getting paid off in bucketloads. By ‘Heart Land’, a love-struck love letter to America and all the hopes and dreams that inspired ‘Back In Love City’, it has become their most cohesive and strongest album in years. Back on top.