The Vaselines: Enter the Vaselines (SubPop/Rhythmethod)

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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. 

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