When one thinks about The Vaselines, so often as an afterthought to Nirvana who covered their songs at the behest of their ever-obsessive frontman, it may beg the question as to whether or not The Vaselines could exist on their own; and if they can, should they? It is no secret that a good percentage of bands that Cobain name-dropped, even if there was no reason in doing so, gave exposure to said bands in ways unprecedented in their immediate worlds. Without Cobain’s golden touch it is conceivable that Atlantic would have passed on The Melvins; and The Raincoats could have been sequestered indefinitely to the vinyl racks. Thus far those two bands have lasting interest, even as fleeting curiosities.
The Vaselines were a Scottish pop band whose songs, when covered by Nirvana, sounded like shitty, but catchy, Buzzcocks b-sides. The fact that Sub Pop is even re-rereleasing the collection is no sign of confidence in the band’s ability to rest on its merit, harm in that respect is made more possible by including an interview with Everett True, grunge’s answer to Paul Morley. Though credit must be given where it is due to the label for preparing the album with immaculate care, packaging beautifully and giving it a stronger personalization than is expected for a retrospective compilation.
Enter the Vaselines is an extension of Sup Pop’s The Way of the Vaselines: a Complete History, released 17 years earlier, though it seems that the history wasn’t sufficiently complete. This time around they’ve taken it upon themselves to rerelease the disc with an additional one featuring demos and live sets in Bristol and London. Even with the addition it still appears that The Vaselines didn’t do a whole lot. Indeed, two EPs and one full-length record can barely fill the time of an eye-blink in this age, especially in America. Still, if one is more than casual in one’s encounter with the band’s work, when time warrants it of course, one may be transfixed by the band’s eccentric lo-fi pop that, simply put, takes school yard jump rope sing-alongs to their logical extreme.
It’s hard to add to what has already been said by more formidable authorities. Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee are gifted songwriters whose collective air of innocence and nonsense made more interesting their simplest melodies. “Son of a Gun” and “Molly’s Lips,” though taken out of obscurity by Nirvana, are catchy on their own. The much louder contents of Dum-Dum—namely “Sex Sux (Amen),” “Monsterpussy” and “Let’s Get Ugly”—could hold water next to Mudhoney any day. Perhaps it was their imperfection as performers that made the strongest impression, for better and worse. As the Pixies can attest, the late-1980s was not the best time for weird-sounding, rough-edged bands. The lo-fi production of the two EPs actually sound like demos, and the actual demos are even rougher. Eugene Kelly’s deadpan vocals rival that of J. Mascis, McKee is sweet and cherubic but no chanteuse. Such aspect would have turned off the more sheen-addicted audiences of the ’80s, and wouldn’t come to appreciate them as part of the group’s charm. They largely overcome the more glaring roughness in Dum-Dum, a full-on rock record with an actual rhythm section backing them up. The precious pop melding with garage superfuzz is actually the band at its zenith. If anything, it’s an additional testament to how unoriginal Nirvana really was when you hear it.
The second disc is mostly ephemera. For me, personally, hearing a live performance is half the battle, and I largely stay away from them. It’s disappointing to hear that Dum-Dum songs are played far less aggressively than on the album. Some of the stage banter is quite amusing though and it’s not bad to have for completists. The whole thing is really rather enjoyable, especially with its beautiful packaging by Dusty Summers, complete with photos, album covers, etc., not to mention the two interviews in the liner notes.
Though 17 years is somewhat of a random period of time between releasing an album and re-releasing it, the timing is still appropriate and beneficial to the group. The Vaselines have recently gotten back together, at a time when the somewhat similar-sounding twee movement can’t be anymore agonizingly popular, a momentum they could have used when they were performing originally, assuming they would have wanted that of course. One hopes, having heard this, that someone will go out and bestow upon the highly underrated Eugenius—Eugene Kelly’s post-Vaselines band obviously—the same treatment Sub-Pop so lovingly gave The Vaselines.
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MP3: “Son of a Gun”