Release Date: May 5, 2009
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
So if the first disc of Enter the Vaselines is absolutely essential, the bonus disc is for fanatics only. The demos for "Son of a Gun" and unrecorded songs "Rosary Job" and "Red Poppy" are interesting from a historical perspective but not very listenable, as the duo hadn't really put its sound together yet. The live set from December of 1986 (three months before the first EP was recorded) is a sloppy, stiff performance with Kelly and McKee backed by a drum machine and fighting to be heard above the din of the unimpressed crowd.
The legions exposed to a glimpse of The Vaselines via Nirvana’s ragged crunch pop takes on “Son of a Gun” and “Molly’s Lips” from Incesticide were given a panoramic view when Sub Pop reissued the act’s entire discography with 1992’s The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History. The collection, which included their sole LP Dum-Dum, along with the Son of a Gun and Dying for It EPs, evinced an unlikely yet brilliant meeting of C86 effeteness with the roughshod, reckless strains of The Velvet Underground circa White Light/White Heat. For an encore, Sub Pop delves even more deeply into the vaults on Enter the Vaselines, collecting a trio of nascent demos and a pair of live gigs from the band’s canon for a bonus disc, while giving the original EPs and LP a sorely needed remaster.
Famous superfans are both a blessing and a curse-- just ask the Vaselines. In 1992, at the urging of ardent admirer Kurt Cobain, Sub Pop released The Way of the Vaselines, a compilation of the short-lived and then-little-known band's extant recordings (a whopping 19 tracks). Hooray for them, right? Maybe. If the Vaselines originally slotted neatly into the mid-to-late 80s Scottish shambolic pop underground of the Pastels, Shop Assistants, and BMX Bandits, their origins-- and the band's actual recordings-- became overshadowed by a single factoid: They influenced Nirvana.
To write one song that gets covered by Nirvana may be regarded as good fortune; to write three looks like genius. Having 'Molly's Lips', 'Son of a Gun' and 'Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam' all included on albums by the then-biggest band in the world (the first two on Incesticide, the latter on MTV Unplugged) has certainly kept the prospect of wage-slavery from Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee's doors. "It's classic Vaselines that we became famous through someone else covering our songs" says McKee in the liner notes to this new compendium of the band's oeuvre.
I was apprehensive about seeing the Vaselines when they passed through New York last year on a brief reunion tour. The thought of Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly bringing their filthy, funny and endearing songs to the stage more than 20 years after they were conceived, seemed to run in marked contrast to the youthful nature of the original material. My fears proved unfounded; seeing Kelly singing “It’ll take three to satisfy me/ 'Cause I’m more of a man than you’ll ever be” (from “Rory Rides Me Raw”) was riotously entertaining.
One of the truly great things about growing up a fan of Nirvana is being privy to Kurt Cobain’s excellent albeit wildly diverse taste in music. From a personal standpoint, there are three musical acts I can personally thank Mr. Cobain for putting me onto during my high school and college years. The first is the Melvins, whose primary members King Buzzo and Dale Crover were school-age friends of Kurt’s, and whose strong connection with the grunge icon helped them land a short-lived major label record deal (not to mention a permanent spot in my Top 5 heavy metal acts of all time).
Because so much has already written about The Vaselines, it would be a waste of time to rehash it all here. The highlights: the Scottish band had a short life in the late 80s, was loved by Kurt Cobain, and was made popular through its Sub Pop releases. It became fashionable to name-check the band after these posthumous endorsements, which brought The Vaselines some deserved attention.
As the Vaselines, Scots Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee have led a curious career in two distinct acts, each steered and written by an entirely different set of hands. Over 20 years on from their inception, the pair have managed to drift across the 1980s international pop underground, influence the work of perhaps the single most revered 1990s rock icon, and even made time for a reunion epilogue in 2008, playing their first American shows with a rag-tag band of musicians they obviously inspired in the first place. In all, not bad for a couple of scruffy, sex-obsessed, twee-pop iconoclasts.