The Vaccines - Combat Sports (Cover Artwork)

The Vaccines

Combat Sports (2018)

Sony Music Entertainment UK

I might be a snob. The first couple of times I listened to the new album by The Vaccines, Combat Sports, I did what snobs do best, and I dismissed it. I said to my snobby self, ‘What the...? Someone’s doing garage again? Ha!’ and quickly reached for my copy of The Hives’ Barely Legal (yes, on white vinyl, of course!), my nose never to return from its upward point.

But wait. I didn’t used to be a snob. It can’t be just this album that did me in. So with the benefit of being locked for hours in a metal tube in the sky, I dig deeper into this album, to be as fair and objective as I can.

Ok, so Combat Sports does indeed start off a little boring. “Put It On a T-Shirt” picks up where Marvelous 3 abruptly ended their pan flash, “I Can’t Quit” will probably get plenty of spins at Urban Outfitters, and “Your Love Is My Favourite Band” is a pretty painful attempt at a smarmy hipster anthem.

But then things start to look up a bit.

“Surfing In the Sky” makes up for the mistakes of its predecessor “Your Love...” and actually nails the ironic word play. It’s goofy and fun, with plenty of sunny guitar work. Next, “Maybe (Luck of the Draw)” provides a sweet, romantic ballad. And while having that is admittedly cliche on a nu-garage record, it’s warm synths and brooding minor key give it such a soul that it has an actual home on the album, and turns out to be one of the best tracks here.

As you may expect, “Nightclub” turns up the tempo. Buzzing guitars follow right along the snappy drums to create an upbeat dance number, while keeping the rhythm simple enough to get stuck in your head. Add in the stream-of-consciousnesses lyrics, and “Nightclub” will be the most fun you have singing into your hairbrush this year.

“Take It Easy” does indeed have the same message as its namesake from the 70s. However, changing the protagonist to a slacker anti-hero doesn’t turn out to be as charming as the band probably thought it would be. I’ll bet these guys still think Holden Caulfield was an idol.

The closing track is simply called “Rolling Stones.” Is it a Stones cover, kept unnamed in order to covertly avoid royalty payments? Perhaps a medley? Or a dedication, a profession of love to the other greatest band? Nah. Just a collection of smartass metaphors for jabbing annoying people with (“Your mouth is as big as The Rolling Stones”). I’ll admit, they do land them; the wordplay is coy, dry, and sarcastic. Did I mention The Vaccines are British?

The result on Combat Sports ends up being a hung jury. For every catchy, witty number, there’s another that’s dull, muddy, dated. The Vaccines aren’t exactly a legacy act yet; expect some misses and some experiments that don’t pan out. The highs on this are pretty great, but I’m not convinced they justify the lows.