With their fifth record, Back in Love City, The Vaccines have crafted their most euphoric, visceral and visionary work to date. It’s a record that sees the five-piece assert themselves as one of Britain’s most vital guitar bands, with 13 songs set against the fictional metropolis of the album’s title. The new record follows the tenth anniversary celebrations of their seminal debut What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? which catapulted the band into the modern rock and roll canon.
With a mammoth four UK Top 5 albums – including a Number 1 with 2012’s Come of Age – and a fierce live reputation forged through arena-filling headline shows and unforgettable slots at Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds, Back in Love City is a career-high evolution for The Vaccines.
A modern-day pleasure island – equal part utopia and dystopia – Love City was born from the band’s fascination with emotions as commodities and the desperation for human connection. “In some obvious ways we’re more connected than ever,” Vaccines’ vocalist and chief songwriter Justin Young explains. “But we’re also more polarised than we’ve been for 100 years and the world is getting colder. What if there was a place where love and other emotions had run dry – but you could go to Love City to get them?”
After distilling heart and soul into the arduous recording of 2018’s Combat Sports, Young found an outlet for the softer side of his songwriting by partnering up with fellow Vaccine Timothy Lanham in side project Halloweens before moving to LA to work on The Vaccines’ fifth record. Setting himself up in a house swap fuelled Young’s fascination with disconnection even more: “I literally swapped lives with a stranger. I lived in in house and drove his car while he lived in mine, but we’d never met and had no previous connections.”
Inspired by fictional cities – from Ridley Scott’s version of LA in Blade Runner to Cowboy Beebop’s Fear City – as much as places like Las Vegas, Tijuana and Tokyo, the idea of Love City took shape. As a backdrop for the album’s hyperbolic tales of 21st-century escapism, it allowed Young’s songwriting to flourish like never before. “Everything that we were doing in the creative process had momentum but it would only ever get momentum if we thought it existed in that world,” he explains. Young imagined The Vaccines as the house-band in Love City, a place where safety, solace and satisfaction are on offer as much as love, where mental and physical pleasure is for sale, and where nobody has to be alone.
Recording Back in Love City was a very different experience to previous albums, thanks in part to the gentle hands of Daniel Ledinsky (Tove Lo, Zara Larson, TV on the Radio, Rihanna). The Swedish-born and LA-based producer had previously worked with the band on 2018’s standalone single “All My Friends Are Falling in Love.” He understood where the band had come from – but more importantly realised where they wanted to go. “Daniel was the only name on the list when it came to thinking about someone to make this record with,” says Young. “He just got it, and from a band in our position, the idea of working with a traditional rock producer at this point is pretty uninspiring.”
It was Ledinsky who suggested the five Vaccines – Young and Lanham, along with guitarist Freddie Cowan, bassist ÁrniÁrnason and drummer Yoann Intonti – decamp to a small town just outside of El Paso, Texas, to record the album. In the immersive surroundings of the famous Sonic Ranch – the world’s largest residential studio complex – Ledinsky created an environment for the band’s creative energy to flourish. At night they would build log fires and be regaled with stories of drug cartels while coyotes howled in the distance. They slept in bedrooms inside the old border post, with Trump’s wall running nearby. By day The Vaccines found new level of collaboration and creative energy; everything fell into place more naturally than it had done for the band in years. “Everybody was given the space to be their best,” Young says. ”Nothing was a bad idea until we tried it and ideas were very free flowing. It meant people had the freedom and courage to try things…no-one was too precious or protective of an idea, so everybody knew when to sit back and do what was right for the song.
The album was finished early in 2020 and mixed by Andrew Maury (Lizzo, Post Malone) with additional production from Fryars (Pharrell Williams, Mark Ronson). It’s not a lockdown record but its theme of escapism in modern life resonates more than ever in the pandemic era. It’s a massive musical leap forward for the band too, and while the trademark surf swagger and Western flourish of The Vaccines sound remains, Back in Love City is their heaviest record so far. From the hard-hit of songs like “XCT”, “Wanderlust” and “Bandit” through to live fan favourite “Jump Off The Top” and the immediate rock n roll crash of “Headphones Baby”, it documents a band flexing at their creative peak.
Back in Love City is also a gift to the fans that have grown with the band, adopting their records as a soundtrack to adolescence, nights out, and those unforgettable festival performances. The Vaccines have shared blood, sweat and tears with front-rows across the world but the pandemic found Young forming an even closer bond with Vaccines fans, new and old: “I know their names and I talk to them on social media,” he explains, “and it’s weird that it’s come through being pulled apart and separated and locked away.”
The record’s more adrenalised moments are balanced with a tenderness: half-way point “El Paso”, a song written on Elliot Smith’s nylon guitar, finds Young channelling a dreamy nostalgia, while the melancholy “Heart Land’ is a love letter to American pop culture – with all its hopes and paradoxes – from a teenage perspective.
“This album was so fun and liberating to make and reminded us all that the most important thing is to enjoy making music with each other,” says Young. “For the first time ever it feels like we haven’t just made the best album we could given the circumstances – full of caveats and ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ – we’ve made an album we all truly love and want to listen to. I think it has an abundance of all our best qualities – and that’s how it should be!”
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