Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Vaccines make a welcome return with their fourth album in seven years, and first in three, with the release of their latest record 'Combat Sports'. After the odd hiccup and wavering trajectory along the way, The Vaccines seem to have come back with a more reassured swagger and a joined up, cohesive sound that oozes confidence and points to a band comfortable in their own skin. With five singles lifted from their latest eleven track album already, Justin and his band have not been shy about coming forward with it either.
For the most part, 'Combat Sports' has an undeniably infectious, almost youthful naivety about it. The anthemic Garage Rock of their first single to be taken off of the album, 'I Can't Quit', is a riotous fillip driven at velocity by some terrific guitar riffs and well versed lyrics. Album opener 'Put It On A T-Shirt' has a slight Vampire Weekend lilt that creeps into the mix and has a similar immediacy and resonance that makes it easy to like. 'Surfing In The Sky' picks the BPM back up with its relentless rhythm and Justin's more attitudinal vocal style as he poses the question, "What do you get when you cross the Rubicon, With a man who said self-humour's all gone?"
Where 'Combat Sports' loses some of its appeal is when it verges on the throw-away and takes a more Fratellis route. The bouncy and light album low point of 'Take It Easy' (As well as the ever so slightly better, 'Maybe (Luck Of The Draw)') detract from the overall quality of the remainder and jars every time.
'Combat Sports' should not be defined by its weak spots and has plenty to elevate it regardless of a couple of poor tracks. 'Out On The Street' is premium Vaccines. Thrashing guitars, intensified percussion and a belter of a song. "Who put bars across your window of opportunity?" Justin sings as the song flits between the harmonic and the electrified. Close out track 'Rolling Stones', with its backing keys and more reflective manner, also delivers some great lyrics to complement its ever building soundtrack as it too mixes the tone of the track between dark and contemplative to unflinching and in your face.
A somewhat surprising highpoint on the album comes mid-point and is the shortest track on 'Combat Sports'. 'Young American', coming in at 2m 1sec maybe brief but it is brilliant. There's a mood and feel that's akin to a Peter Doherty composition about 'Young American' and whilst that may not float everyone's boat I say it with only positivity and admiration. The stripped back softly sung ballad is a master piece in understated reservation. There is no percussion, no keys, only Justin and a guitar. The arrangement and production are balanced perfectly and the lyrical prowess ("Suffocate me in between your thighs, and take me swimming, naked, in your eyes.") the best on the album; it's a real delight.
With 'Combat Sports' The Vaccines have returned, fully energised and enthused, with a set of songs that restore the promise of past triumphs and herald a long and bright future.