The sophomore full-length from London guitar band The Vaccines is a baffling back-step from the irony and cool distance of their exceptional 2011 debut. Gone is much of the playful humor of their earlier work, replaced by a sullen through line of self-conscience doubt. The clear influence here is still The Strokes. And, while that comparison isn’t entirely fair, considering how much The Strokes borrow from others that have come before, The Vaccines are certainly inviting it through instrumentation and arrangement. Many of these tracks could be castoffs from Room on Fire. Overdubs pop in and out of the mix, missing purpose or direction. And, when the riffs really drive the songs, it’s usually to somewhere familiar with neither songwriting strength nor musical mastery along for the ride.
Lyrically, much of Come of Age displays a specific brand of regression, seemingly hell-bent on removing any work for the listener’s imagination. Take the rather complex sentiment expressed in the chorus of their first record’s straight-up jam, “If You Wanna.” “But if you wanna come back it’s alright, it’s alright. / It’s alright if you wanna come back. / Do you wanna come back? It’s alright, it’s alright. / It’s alright if you wanna come back to me,” versus the strangely sexist “I Wish I Was A Girl” that features quips like: “Life is easy when I when you’re easy on the eye,” or “Teenage Icon’s:” “I’m no teenage icon. / I’m no Frankie Avalon. / I’m nobody’s hero.”
There’s a limply confrontational quality that pervades the entire album. “Are you disappointed in me? Am I not as thoughtful as you thought I’d be?” asks “Bad Mood.” The answer to both of those questions for most fans will probably, sadly, be “yes.”
Of course, there are still some bright points, specifically “Aftershave Ocean” and the rousing opener “No Hope,” but both openly address over-endulgence and self-obession with a snide, dismissive wave. They are seemingly honest but feel a bit like they are racing to insult themselves before you will have the chance.
Hopefully next time around this act will rediscover some of the joy and abandon that was all over What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? They’re not much fun without it. While fun is probably not the desired result of much of Come of Age, at least it’s enjoyable. And, in defense of Frankie Avalon: at 72 years old, he’s still putting himself out there with a smile.