Combat Sports is the sound of The Vaccines being The Vaccines. Their fourth album is the sound of one of the defining British rock and roll bands of their generation at full throttle, setting aside pop experiments and concentrating on what caused the rabid excitement at their arrival in 2010. Combat Sports is a record of guitars, of brevity, of speed, of breathless excitement.
"We rediscovered who we were and what kind of band we wanted to be," says singer, songwriter and rhythm guitarist Justin Young. "We wanted to make a record to solidify that in our minds, and the minds of other people. We wanted to make the best record we've ever made."
Combat Sports was born of troubled times. The band ended the campaign for their third album, English Graffiti, in a mess. Members of the band had lifestyle issues and health issues - being in the band wasn't the fun it had once been. They were also questioning themselves and their music: although it had been a No 2 hit in the UK and won some of the best reviews of their career, The Vaccines knew what the audience wanted - and what they loved playing - was rock and roll.
"We lost sight of who we were and why we were there," Young says. "When you're as insecure and self-aware as me, there's a constant process of second-guessing everything you do. I've brought The Vaccines into my heart again now. Being in a band is about compromise and collaboration and I think it's coming to terms with what we are as a collective and falling back in love with that and making the best record we can for us as a band, rather than as individuals."
Then came the departure of drummer Pete Robertson, causing the remaining trio to realise something about the group: "We decided we needed to make it fun again." Lead guitarist Freddie Cowan and bassist Árni Árnason provided the manifesto: "The band were saying: 'We love it when you bring in rock'n'roll songs - they're so much more fun to play.'"
That was crucial for Young, because he realised the Vaccines needed to be a guitar band again. Specifically, they needed to be a band where lead and rhythm guitar worked together, as on their debut, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? "With great bands, you need to be able to hear the guitar and recognise them," he says. "Lots of people would have been learning Freddie's licks from the first two albums - there are 11 guitar solos on the new album - we were encouraging him to play again."
A key moment in Young realising the power of rock and roll came on a night out in a Los Angeles bar. It's something he remembers vividly, seeing how a great guitar band could set a room alight. "The DJ played Everybody's Happy Nowadays, and all the girls in there were dancing so intensely to it. I thought: 'Fuck! I remember why I love the Buzzcocks - for these really sad, forlorn, dumb, catchy songs.' And I realised rock and roll was sexy again. I'd forgotten it could be sexy."