1981 was a year of various news: Reagan was made president, the shuttle Columbia was sent into space and in far lesser news, The Vapors released their second album “Magnets” to an unbeknownst audience. If The Vapors’ name escapes the average listener then perhaps they can be better identified as that one hit wonder band that wrote the popular new wave song “Turning Japanese” in the year 1980. Despite releasing a well-received debut album “New Clear Days” and a fairly received sophomore effort, The Vapors were never able to escape the clutches of being a one hit wonder and would eventually disband shortly after the release of “Magnets.” It was not until 2016 that three of the original members, singer David Fenton, guitarist Ed Bazelgette and bassist Steve Smith would reform again to play small tours from 2016 to 2020. Nearly 40 years after their disbanding and the release of “Magnets,” The Vapors finally released new material under the album titled “Together.”
The album opens with the title track “Together” which begins with Bazelgette plucking at his guitar before the rest of the band kicks in a power pop unison. After a few measures Fenton introduces his voice to us again and it should be noted immediately just how solid he still sounds even in his late 60s. After “Together” comes the single off the album titled “Crazy” which begins with Bazelgette slicing at his guitar and the band kicking in with a pop punk riffage that pounds the listener’s ear. “Crazy” comes as a great pop single that evidently won’t match the hype of “Turning Japanese” but is still potent in its delivery.
The album continues with a couple ballads in “Sundown River” and “Real Time” which continue this great array of pop songs that exhibits The Vapors doing what they do best. Many bands who form reunion albums often get caught in trying to sound either too modern or coming off out of touch, but The Vapors strike a balance. The Vapors add little contemporary nuances such as vocal chants in the song “I Don’t Remember,” but they never stray away from this new wave pop sound that surged through their previous albums. “Together” is in the middle of sounding like it was released soon after “Magnets” while still sounding fresh and contemporary with the new tricks the band members learned after forty years.
As the album continues, the central theme unveils as both love and love lost. The title of the album is stylized on the cover as “To… Get… Her” so this theme should not come as a surprise, but it does come off quite different from The Vapors past lyrical topics. A younger Fenton sang about social topics of alienation, being sent to war and the monotony of life. Love songs were sprinkled in there, but the few on the previous albums seemed like little puzzle pieces to this whole concept of life’s nuances. It should not come as a surprise that this older Fenton would stray away from the pressures of young adulthood, but singing about love can be mundane in its own right. More refreshingly, Fenton could teach us what the pressures mean for him at this older age, but even then, are The Vapors releasing an album for a new audience or for an audience that grew with them?
This lyrical content is further frayed by the song “Wonderland” which references “Alice in Wonderland.” Referencing Lewis Carol’s tale seems almost obligatory as lyrical content after personally hearing many lyricists allegorize the story. This definitely makes for the weakest song on the album not just lyrically but also musically as the track itself lacks the punch of the overall track list. The Vapors do give a social stance in the song “Letters to Hiro – No11” which acts as a sequel song to “Letters from Hiro” off of “New Clear Days.” The original song details a British boy who has a Japanese pen pal. In their letters, the British boy goes through an identity crisis trying to understand the newfound nationalism that their pen pal is exhibiting. Fast-forward nearly forty years, and Fenton presents the sequel through the lens of an older man who still questions the meaning behind his pen pal’s interest in facing war. “Letters from Hiro” is a powerhouse of a song musically and lyrically, and its sequel does not quite capture the original strength, but Fenton’s growing outlook and remaining alienation still comes from a very honest place which I wish he explored more of in the lyrics.
The album closes with the song “Nuclear Nights” which plays off the name “New Clear Days” as the title is a play on words for nuclear days. The name seems aptly put as if the band is stating they have come to the nighttime of their career moving away from the days of their youth. The song details the end of a relationship and coming to terms with Fenton repeating the line “You can always be my friend” during the outro of the song. It makes for a very bittersweet ending to the return of a band that never quite escaped the threshold of a hit song but were heavy hitters in their own right.
Verdict: “Together” is a fantastic example of a return to form despite its few flaws. It holds up out of all the care and tenderness that was placed in its creation. More importantly is how after four decades, the band genuinely sounds like they are having a great time playing music together again.