Release Date: Oct 7, 2014
Record label: Rosary Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
There were never great expectations of The Vaselines when they reunited in 2008. When a charity show turned into a proper tour, complete with two new songs to flesh out the setlist, maybe there were then people thought there might be a single or an EP release. But 2009’s Sex with an X was a surprise, a record no one was really expecting to materialise that was somehow everything you could hope the band to produce nearly 20 years after their first and hitherto only album.
Best known for its late 1980s singles that would eventually be covered by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Glasgow’s the Vaselines always wielded a severe wit and displayed a sturdy bit of feminism amid its sometimes surprisingly candid lyrical content. Preoccupied might be a bit strong to describe the relationship Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee have with fleshy concerns. But over the Vaselines’ career, they’ve made more than a few references to sex (“Sex Sux,” “Monsterpussy”), including 2010’s Sex with an X, the band’s return to recording after almost 20 years away from a studio.
The Vaselines have never been ones for opportune timing. Already disbanded by the time their debut album, Dum-Dum, was released in 1989, ex-lovers-cum-ex-bandmates Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee should have by all conventional wisdom reconciled in the early ’90s to capitalize on their rarified standing as one of the most-covered artists in the Nirvana discography (a benefit that did at least trickle down to a short-lived major-label deal for Kelly’s post-Vaselines band Eugenius). Instead, they waited until 2008—just enough time for their biggest claim to fame to lose its currency to a new generation of kids who may have a passing familiarity with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but aren’t about to study Kurt Cobain’s record collection.
We can be honest here. Unless you're somewhat unbelievably hip, we can agree the main reason we know about The Vaselines is Kurt Cobain. Nirvana covered three songs by the Scottish group in their time and Vaselines member Eugene Kelly even admits he owes a mortgage to royalties from the Seattle superband's covers of his songs. But even a quick once-over of their new record, V for Vaselines, or any of their original work from the late '80s, reveals them to be about as different from Nirvana as Enya is from Bruce Springsteen.
When the Vaselines got back together triumphantly in 2008 to play live shows, that was nothing short of miraculous. When they followed it up with the rambunctious and fun album Sex with an X in 2010, that was also pretty special. Now in 2014, with the release of their second post-comeback album V for Vaselines, a significant portion of the magic has worn off.
It’s been just over 25 years since The Vaselines first released an album. In that time, Family Guy successfully killed and resurrected Brian, hair scrunchies refused to go out of fashion and the forenamed Glaswegian duo broke up, reformed, broke up and reformed again. Who’s to say it wasn’t an eventful few years? Despite having numerous songs of theirs covered by Nirvana all whilst collecting a hefty cult following along the way, The Vaselines have spent seemingly more time apart than together.
Initially active in Glasgow in the late ’80s, The Vaselines’ slim early catalogue (two EPs and one album) has long been held in high esteem, thanks partly to Nirvana’s cover of ‘Molly’s Lips’. While 2010’s comeback ‘Sex With An X’ found Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee in filthy good humour, the spark has dimmed a little on ‘V For Vaselines’. Electricity still crackles on power pop opener ‘High Tide Low Tide’, and bittersweet duet ‘Single Spies’ sees the pair harmonising like Scotland’s own Sonny And Cher, but much of the album (‘Inky Lies’, ‘Crazy Lady’) chugs along in a glam rock furrow with only rare bursts of fun.
When Scottish indie-pop heroes the Vaselines came back for their musical victory lap in 2011 with Sex With A X, nobody begrudged them their moment. After all, most of their popularity came after they had called it a day the first time around, and so they were finally able to bring their music to the masses.Album number three, V For Vaselines, feels a little like a redundant followup. The band were apparently heavily influenced by the Ramones this time around, and the resulting sounds strips the band of quite a bit of their charm.
There are two common misconceptions about The Vaselines, one of which alludes to the band being consigned to obscurity were it not for their most notable champion, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who regularly cited the little-known Scottish quartet as a primary influence on his own work. While there’s no doubt that Cobain’s reverence for The Vaselines helped to heighten their rise to cult status, in actuality, the band would have ultimately succeeded in that on their own accord. With wide-eyed vulgarity, their abrasive-yet-tender, shambling, primitive squall remains the perfect antidote to the cynical earnestness of most guitar music, and yet another prominent addition to Scottish indie pop’s fabled back story.