What did I expect from the Vaccines? A band that had been so hyped, positioned as the second coming of good ol’ British guitar rock, and just as quickly trashed—reviled for being ‘posh’, for being clean and ‘mum-friendly’ (although “Norgaard” is a touch creepy). Where was the edge? The Clash-style grit and vigor? Certainly not on tracks like the diminutive “Wreckin’ Bar”, which throws in a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald before declaring “I know you’re your Mother’s daughter, Well brought up; royal blue, I haven’t got the time for you!” Feels a little false, right?
Drowned in Sound perhaps raised the question of the title most succinctly, pondering: “Is it a snarling piece of punkish rhetoric? Or is it a more an resigned throwing of hands in the air, a What Did You EXPECT from the Vaccines?”. I’m inclined to think it’s more of the latter, that Justin Young and the boys are nodding their well-coiffed heads in acknowledgement of the ridiculous media frenzy. If you examine the album through the lens of rebellious punk or old-school rock’n’roll, it comes off like a little girl trying on her mother’s make-up. But the Vaccines aren’t either of those things, and shouldn’t really be judged by the million ready comparisons (the Strokes, the Ramones) that keep being offered up. It’s true that the Vaccines wear some of these influences on their designer (or overpriced vintage, more likely) sleeves, but I think they’d be the first to admit that they are not rock’s new Messiah.
Being a long-time listener of Justin Young’s singer-songwriter alter ego, Jay Jay Pistolet, I wasn’t surprised by the eleven tracks of What Did You Expect. Although the styles are obviously quite different, Jay Jay was to folk as the Vaccines are to indie rock. Those songs are also easily digestible, sweet and simple, not changing the game so much as providing a pleasant escape. That all may sound harsh, but I don’t mean it that way–not everything needs to rock the boat. I fondly remember listening to JJP’s “We Are Free” while walking around London on a sunny day, and I enjoy infectious tunes like “If You Wanna” and “Norgaard” just as much. The Vaccines are most successful when they hit their beachy, sun-drenched stride, more Wavves than Jesus and Mary Chain.
While some songs on the album are weighed down by their glossy production and dragging tempos (“A Lack of Understanding”, “Family Friend”), others truly perfect summer escapism. Say what you want about “Wreckin’ Bar” and its lack of profundities, it gets stuck in your head and makes you tap your toes. Such is the case with much of What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?: it’s not earth-shattering, but it’s a good time. When you’re bobbing along to “Blow It Up”, you won’t really care that the band is more well-to-do than working-class. You’ll just want a dance floor.