It’s been two years. Just two years. Back in early 2010 The Vaccines weren’t even a band. They were just a bunch of guys, hanging around, thinking about starting a band, but in 2012 they’ve successfully conquered Reading, released a second album, and have announced a date at London’s prestigious O2 Arena.
Ascents are rarely this rapid. Even the Pistols and the Monkeys spent the best part of two years bumming around on the underground gaining momentum and preparing the world for their inevitable mainstream ascension. The Vaccines had popularity thrust upon them, and if the lyrical content of sophomore LP Come Of Age is anything to go by, Justin Young isn’t quite ready for it. The band are having a good time, but like The Strokes in 2000, The Vaccines are built on scruffy understatement: no thrills, quickfire indie and not stadium pomp.
More surprisingly, just two year’s ago rock appeared to be in the doldrums. The same old bands headlined arenas, while pop seemingly created a new headliner each and every week. By contrast, 2012 has already seen Florence and The Machine sell out one date at the O2 so fast that a second stint became inevitable (she’s already sold the floor, and lower seating, and is working her way towards two consecutive sellouts as we speak). However, Florence Welch isn’t a natural comparison, her sound is huge, her stage show is naturally theatrical, and she’s been singled out for Arenas and headline dates since her debut. The Vaccines look, feel, and play like an academy band.
In truth, when reporting on their successful stint at the Brixton Academy last December, I was struck by just how hard it was for The Vaccines to fill an hour. The set was rapid, and very entertaining, but it left the audience expecting more. It felt like a headliner should have followed them and ripped through a 90-minute set. The Vaccines may have more material today, and there are some beefier arrangements on Coming Of Age, but their core sound is still swift, and rather sweet. When they supported the Arctic Monkeys in the O2 Arena last year, their sound felt thin, it rattled around the cavernous arena, losing a chunk of its punchy pointed attack.
Reading 2012 was a mixed bag. There set went well, but the atmosphere was distinctly apathetic: “They pulled it off, were a bit of a laugh, but it was a bit forgettable”. The Vaccines are fun, but they don’t yet leave the kind of indelible mark (for better or worse) that big headline bands should.
So can they do it? Could they be the next Strokes or will they have to change their fundamental sound if they have real headline ambitions? In the end it’ll be the fans that decide with their credit cards.
If they sell out the O2, it will be hard to deny The Vaccines a festival promotion, and that means one of three things: headline, sub, or they close the NME Tent. If they don’t, it could be the moment The Vaccines stock starts to dip, and they settle into a mid-career slump. With any luck we’ll have a clear idea of this band’s potential come Monday morning.