November 17th 2011
Sometimes it feels like the Ramones were the greatest pop band that ever existed. They were so dumb it was beautiful and their songwriting genius squeezed out so much melody and emotion from the simplest of ideas. Their first 3 albums were buzzsaw perfection- a combination of classic rock n roll, teenage drama and Phil Spector girl group grandeur.
Their impact was so massive with those early records that the Spector produced fifth album, 1980’s ‘End Of The Century’ masterpiece is often overlooked.
The Vaccines (interviewed in detail here) know this. Their set is dripping with the reverb drenched, buzzsaw genius of da brudders Spector moment. Watching them live they are, arguably, the closest you can get now to the Ramones at their peak. There are sublime moments tonight when they hint at Ramones genius on the wall of sound guitars and euphoric melodies and the downstroke intensity of the brothers. The Vaccines also have that knack of writing real tearjerkers and share the love of all things girl group. Of course the Vaccines have their own take on this, there is something very British about what they do- a euphoric, melodic chainsaw of pop perfection sieved through classic Brit indie and bands like Jesus And The Mary Chain with a love of garage rock and classic old school American hardcore that gives them their own sound.
This is blissful music, music that surfs on emotion and optimism with a whole series of under two minute anthems that cut all the crap away and leave you with wall of sound guitar rushes underpinning sugar coated melodies that are so classic that they must be covers, accept they are homespun originals from front man Justin Young.
The band have a purity that sees them far away from rock star cliche, Justin is so lanky English that it makes him ten times more charismatic than standard rock star fare- he oozes a natural charm that makes the whole audience feel like they are part of the experience. Justin has a voice that combines suburban heartache and joy just like Joey Ramone did all those years ago and defines the band’s cavernous sound with its plaintive, heartfelt tones. His hardcore roots are betrayed by the intensity of purpose in his music and a battered T short of the eighties DC hardcore scene band, Void. It’s not that the Vaccines are actually hardcore, they are, like they say, a pop band but they crank those guitars pretty hard and there is a precision and speed about many of their songs that make them instant moshpit classics.
They also have that timeless, aching melancholia of the girl groups, the Spector produced songs of unrequited, chewing gum love and hope. It’s this understanding of the pure beauty that lies at the heart of great pop music that makes the Vaccines stand out. They are way more than just another indie band, they have a deeper emotional thing going on and an inventiveness that is crammed into those short, sharp songs.
Guitarist Freddie Cowan, the brother of the Horrors keyboard Tom Cowan, is the closet they come to standard rock n roll cool- backstage in his hat and leather jacket he looks like a fifth member of the Clash in the band’s 1981 ”ËLondons Calling’ gangster chic. His playing is exemplary- decorating Justin’s pop epics with cute guitar licks that are catchy as fuck embellishing the already classic songs with extra twists and turns. The rhythm section just keep it tight, a driving bass coupled with the drums playing those great rolling patterns of the Spector generation adding drama to their big beat power.
They play all the hits and most of the album,there is anew song in there that is slightly longer than their normal 100 seconds and has an added sense of dynamic to it with a fast intro and slow empty verse section, it’s pretty effective and gives a hint to where they could go next.
Justin likes to call the Vaccines a pop band and after the show as we pick through the minutiae of hardcore bands that existed beyond Minor Threat he again talks of pop, and I understand him perfectly. This is real pop, then pop of heartbreak and love, the pop of emotion, love and lust, the pop of feeling a bit lost in the world, a pop that’s doesn’t really exist any more in the cynical marketed to fuck world of modern pop. Maybe that’s why the Vaccines album went to number and they stormed the festival circuit this summer- maybe playing pop with none of the cynicism and heavy duty marketing and desperate autotune faking actually works.
The ultimate victory of the Vaccines success has been to prove that this kind of pop, this purest of pure pop can actually succeed in the branded corporate world.