Things That Make Us Feel Old

Things That Make Us Feel Old: Enter The Vaselines

Don't ask Rocks Off to explain how it came to be that we hadn't listened to the Vaselines in such a long time. It is what it is. Fortunately for us, Sub Pop just gave Eugene and Francis the deluxe double-disc treatment, and we've been listening almost non-stop since it arrived. How this band managed to find its way to the bowels of our music collection we can only guess, but it's good to have them back.

Still, as much as we love the Vaselines - the exuberant vocals, just off enough to sound earnest; the sly combo of naive kink references and genuine naivety; the gentle piss-taking aimed at everything from sex to religion to themselves; the melodies, so simple and yet so perfectly in tune with the jubilant juvenilia - it's hard to get behind Enter the Vaselines, Sub Pop's aforementioned double disc, with much more than a shrug.

That has nothing to do with The Vaselines, and everything to do with the fact that a lot of this material is already available on the label's earlier comp, Way of the Vaselines. Both of the collections feature the band's entire official recorded output, including both EPs and the Dum Dum long-player. The first disc of this new set is, effectively, just a standard reissue.

Disc 2 does as good a job as can be expected, compiling a handful of demos and two live sets. The demos are an interesting glimpse into the band's creative process, though not really built for many repeat listens. "Son of a Gun" is charming even in rough cut, though Frances' vocals are buried, and the song lacks the pop and sparkle of the produced version.

Particularly lacking is the contrast found in the song's opening burst of noise, out of which jumps the sunny guitar and simple drum pattern that propel the finished track. For completists, the other two demos are a treat; neither the slow, dreamy (if slightly slanted) romance of "Rosary Job, nor the charming mid-tempo duet of "Red Poppy" are available in any other format.

Aside from the possible odd bootleg, the same is true of the live sets collected here. Again, though, this is material for the obsessed, with most of its value wrapped up in the concept of documenting the group rather than enjoying its music. The recording quality on the Bristol set is less than stellar, and Frances is more than charmingly off-key, which actually makes up for the fact that you can barely hear her.

Of the two, the set from London is better in every conceivable way. The sound is better, and the band sounds more in command of their material and their audience. This set is also a bit later, when the group had decided that they wanted to be a proper rock band, so there's a bit more muscle, which helps support the somewhat airy early songs, and offers proper interpretation to the beefier material.

The two standout live cuts, both from the London set, paint an interesting picture. They're both covers, and their relative strength reveals a band which never quite felt comfortable with its own quality and relevance. Both Gary Glitter's "I Didn't Know I Loved You ('Til I Saw You Rock 'N' Roll)" and Divine's "You Think You're a Man" shine in the live setting.

"I Didn't Know" is full of rollicking momentum and clean - never mind the ". . .'til I saw your sausage-roll" line - classic pop moves, including a charming call-and-response between McKee and Kelly, with the former losing herself in the moment, most likely to her immediate chagrin. Whereas the album cut of "You Think" finds McKee being coy about her sexual dismissal, this live cut is delivered with all the disgust and psychically castrating humiliation the song warrants, and yet still manages to come across as a bit of a gas.

Now, this is a Deluxe edition, and the packaging is quite nice, containing several fetching photos, both then and now, along with cover art from all of the original recordings. More of note, though, are the two interview/discussions printed on the liner notes.

The dialogues (trialogues?), taken from a 2008-09 conversation between Eugene, Francis and Stephen McRobbie, and a 2009 session with Everett True, reveal the erstwhile couple to be every bit the image they portray in song - full of suggestive remarks, sincerity, and self deprecation, these conversations reinforce the feeling that the songs of The Vaselines could only have been made by a couple exceedingly down to earth, unpretentious and, above all, fond of a dirty joke.

Despite the newly slick packaging, if you already own Way of the Vaselines, this is most likely a pass, excepting of course fanatics. If, however, you somehow missed that one, this is definitely a must-have. Even better, buy a copy for a younger sibling, niece or nephew, or even a grandchild who might not know any better.

After all, they say the children are the future, and a future without The Vaselines would be very bleak indeed.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall