Every few years, a guitar band forms and swaggers up the charts on the strength of music that captures the UK's youthful zeitgeist. In 2011, that group was the Vaccines, whose debut album, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?, referenced the Smiths, Glasvegas, and Interpol as it tackled messy breakups, ill-advised hook-ups, and general romantic malaise.
For its second album, the aptly titled Come of Age (Columbia), the quartet turned to producer Ethan Johns, who's known for his work with Kings of Leon, Ray LaMontagne, and Kaiser Chiefs. Johns was at the top of the Vaccines' wish-list of collaborators from the start, according to frontman Justin Young. "We wanted to find our identity and our place in rock's vast landscape," he says via email as the band's tour rolls through Australia. "And we wanted to develop character. Ethan's records all have tons of that. Aside from sounding sonically amazing, I always feel like I know the artist a lot better by the time I have reached the end of a record he has produced."
Come of Age certainly has more confidence and a crisper sound than What Did You Expect..., perhaps because the Vaccines recorded the album live. It's also more diverse: spindly rockabilly riffs, some swampy blues strutting, and exuberant surf-punk alternate with nods to the Libertines' arch Britrock ("No Hope," "Ghost Town"), soulful mod-pop (the Noel Gallagher-esque "All in Vain"), and oddball country ("Weirdo").
Accordingly, Young's lyrics on Come of Age also reveal greater self-assurance. "It's a record about struggling to come to terms with the reality of life and growing up," he says. While the songs address sex and love in the modern world, they also aren't afraid to be brutally frank about feeling prematurely old, experiencing ego-deflation, or dealing with loneliness.
"I like to be honest and simple," he says. "I think when you feel strongly about something, you're rarely eloquent. You just say what you think, and I wanted to do that. If you want people to emotionally invest in what you do then you have to be honest with them. If I don't believe in what I'm saying, how can anyone else? It's an incredibly therapeutic experience, too."
In the end, though, the Vaccines are refreshingly realistic when it comes to their expectations for Come of Age — and their career. "I think we just wanted to grow as a band," Young says. "I don't think we're under any illusions that we're the best band in the world. But we want to be. And I think we all saw this record as the next step on a long path. Obviously, we want to entertain people too. It's important for us to get the right balance between art and entertainment. We wanted to make a pop record."
THE VACCINES + SAN CISCO:: Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston :: January 29 @ 7 pm :: 18+ :: $17 :: 617.562.8800 or thedise.com :: WFNX PRESENTS: THE VACCINES :: Live at the Museum of Fine Arts, January 29 :: Listen to WFNX.com to win passes