The Vaselines: Enter the Vaselines (SubPop/Rhythmethod)

 |   |  2 min read

The Vaselines: Slushy
The Vaselines: Enter the Vaselines (SubPop/Rhythmethod)

You'd have thought that by the Vaselines having Kurt Cobain as an uber-fan (Nirvana covered three Vaselines songs including Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam aka Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam) that this duo from Glasgow would have become huge.

But rock doesn't work that way: Cobain was also a big fan of Daniel Johnston but as a major label found out after it signed him, that didn't necessarily translate into massive sales.

Perhaps this reissue of a bunch of early lo-fi releases by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee (after whom Cobain named his daughter) will do the trick, although as with Johnston there's a turn-off factor if you like your rock music polished smooth for general consumption. But, as with Johnston, the Vaselines had the tunes and the wit -- if a greater number of songs about sex.

This double disc -- and expanded reissue of SubPop's The Way of the Vaselines compilation of '92 -- comes with a booklet of interviews, period art and photos, and picks up the Vaselines story at the start when, in '87-'88, they released two EP: Son of a Gun and Dying For It.

Right from the beginning they were courageously different: they covered Divine's salacious So You Think You're A Man on Son of a Gun (alongside their own Rory Rides Me Raw, which sort of tells you where they were coming from).

These are untutored and almost amateurish, but they have an undeniable kitschy charm: Rory is delivered over simple chiming guitar chords and So You Think mimics electro-pop with the most simple of keyboard lines borrowed from Kraftwerk.

By Dying For It a year later they were almost sounding seriously rockist (although it was still cheaply recorded) and the post-punk energy was racked up for the title track and Teenage Superstars. And although McKee's girlish vocals were no stronger or confident on Molly's Lips -- aficionados of early Flying Nun will find much to enjoy -- there is something particularly delightful about this EP which also included Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam.

As much as sex saturates many of their songs, so does a strange take on religion -- other songs include Rosary Job -- and their sole album Dum Dum of 1990 kicks off with Sex Sux (Amen) which opens with "I was born in original sin". By this time they'd added bass and drums to the line-up and Dum Dum enjoys some real firepower in the manner of a bargain basement Jesus and Mary Chain.

They also include a nice stab at power-pop after their own fashion (Slushy, Monsterpussy), a twist on the Velvet Underground's minimalism (the alt.folk Bitch), and a Nancy'n'Lee monochrome drone on No Hope.

Barely had Dum Dum been released than they split -- which doubtless has you wondering how SubPop could get two discs out of their catalogue of fewer than 20 short songs.

The second disc kicks in with three demos (Son of a Gun, Rosary Job and Red Poppy) which aren't bad at all -- and actually not as lower-fi than the lo-fi released versions -- and then two live sets from '88 (Glasgow and London) in which of course they necessarily cover the same territory. You can hear people speaking in the audience in Glasgow, which makes you think it was recorded by someone holding a mike above the head of the guy on the sound desk. Very funny.

At the London gig they sound like the Modern Lovers pumped up a bit. It sounds like there are seven people in the audience, and McKee is a very funny, very dry frontman between songs.

The Vaselines didn't last long, probably didn't influence too many people but were admired by the right ones: Cobain, Mudhoney and by extension SubPop.

Given the brevity of their career this handsomely presented double set is the be-all and end-all of the wonky, slightly wonderful and highly amusing Vaselines. 

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

Graham Parker and the Rumour: Three Chords Good (Proper)

Graham Parker and the Rumour: Three Chords Good (Proper)

Despite an excellent career fueled by British pub rock, post-punk energy and Parker's cutting lyrics coupled to memorable and often soulful songs, GP&R never really got the accolades (beyond... > Read more

Surf City: Jekyll Island (Fire/Southbound)

Surf City: Jekyll Island (Fire/Southbound)

On previous albums the Auckland-bred but now much traveled Surf City delivered increasingly impressive opening salvoes and you heard an increasing confidence . . . and a band finding its own voice.... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

India: A nation on steel wheels

India: A nation on steel wheels

Look through any window . . . For the past couple of decades I've taken a quick and unfiltered photo out the window of every room I've stayed in, if there's been a window. The views are... > Read more

KURT ELLING INTERVIEWED (2004): Moved by the spirit

KURT ELLING INTERVIEWED (2004): Moved by the spirit

There's a strange notion of what passes for singing these days. Blame Whitney Houston if you will, but watch any Idol show and singing seems to have been replaced by a kind of vocal calisthenics... > Read more