The Vaselines The VaselinesSex With An X
Twenty years has passed. Twenty long years, in which: a) Kurt Cobain has died (and with him, the grunge that owes so much to his first LP, the indispensable “Dum Dum”); b) Scotland has exported something more (speaking of pop) than the production of Lloyd Cole (from Camera Obscura to Franz Ferdinand), and c) the 90’s mainstream style (bittersweet guitars and papier-mâché existentialism) has come back (what was Amy MacDonald if not a super 90’s Natalie Imbruglia?) and gone again. So it’s expected that The Vaselines’ second album would smell like mothballs, and taste like old, well-fed garage pop that’s been waiting for two decades (during which time Eugene Kelly almost sued Marvel to try to call his next band Captain America and Frances McKee worked with Painkillers and Suckle) until the two of them decided that the time had come to put out a second album. The reasons? When there are guys who would risk their necks betting that you are the second best band in history after the Beatles (Kurt Cobain among them), the fear that the dream will end (and the myth besmirched) can be paralysing.
In any case, The Vaselines are back. And they’re back with an album that almost seems like a farewell (the last cut, “Exit the Vaselines”, the record’s only ballad, makes a minimal nod in that direction, seeming to say to us: “Well, guys, that’s all, so please do us a favour and be going.”) although really it’s a pleasant re-encounter (and nothing more pleasant than the fabulous, catchy song in the same style as “Molly’s Lips”, “Mouth to Mouth” to forgive them for everything, even the long wait). It’s sweet ( “Overweight but over you” seems to have been taken from the soundtrack of a high school series, and Frances, the domesticated version of Kristin Hersh from Throwing Muses); it is also dark (for example the wonderful murder ballad “Turning it on” and the apocalyptic “Whitechapel”), oozing with an exquisite black humour (The best example? “It Wasn’t All Duran Duran”). It shows that the years have passed, but the chemistry between Eugene and Frances is still the same. The songs are still simple (two, three chords) and the lyrics, short (remember that their first single, the far-off “Son of a Gun” didn’t have more than seven lines). “Sex with an X”, the cut that gives its name to the album, is a good example of what we’re saying: simple (Kelly just keeps repeating “We’re going to do it, we’re going to do it again”) but brilliant at the same time.
You only need to hear it once to realise that the group that made their church’s Sunday school song into a grunge hit are good ( “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” was one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite songs, which is why it was included in the famous “Unplugged in New York” by Nirvana). And having Jamie Watson, the same producer as on their acclaimed debut, is not only a thoughtful detail—it’s also a very good choice (he also wanted to be up to it, no doubt, as the first album marked his career as a producer). It’s normal and appreciated that fans like Stevie Jackson and Bob Kildee (of Belle & Sebastian) have lent a hand, and that the album was recorded in 13 days (a song a day, plus one, which completed the two B-sides)—a real demonstration that Frances and Eugene have always been very clear about everything. They did it once (the perfect album) and they have practically done it again, because even though this second shot doesn’t have the same value as the first (at that time, garage pop, which ended up influencing grunge so much, was still in it’s infancy), and even though a long time has passed since then and The Vaselines haven’t chosen to reinvent themselves but rather to return their sound to us (updated), and although some people might have expected more, it’s still a very good album. So welcome back, guys. Laura Fernández
The Vaselines - Sex With An X