The Vaselines: V for Vaselines

The Vaselines have never been ones for opportune timing. Already disbanded by the time their debut album, Dum-Dum, was released in 1989, ex-lovers-cum-ex-bandmates Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee should have by all conventional wisdom reconciled in the early ’90s to capitalize on their rarified standing as one of the most-covered artists in the Nirvana discography (a benefit that did at least trickle down to a short-lived major-label deal for Kelly’s post-Vaselines band Eugenius). Instead, they waited until 2008—just enough time for their biggest claim to fame to lose its currency to a new generation of kids who may have a passing familiarity with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but aren’t about to study Kurt Cobain’s record collection. 

After the now de rigueur reissue/reunion-tour cycle, they released Sex With an X—their first new album in over two decades—to show that age had no maturing effect on their puerile innuendo and bashful blasphemy. The record also seemingly gave the band a proper burial, putting a cap on a legacy they couldn’t have possibly imagined when they when they were strumming out lascivious lo-fi lullabies like “Rory Rides Me Raw”. After all, the last song on X was titled “Exit the Vaselines”, which, beyond its knowing full-circle allusion to the 2009 early-recordings comp Enter the Vaselinesleft us with a pitch-perfect epitaph: “It’s only goodbye.” For a band that became indie rock icons by accident, it felt like a suitably self-effacing note to go out on

As it turns out, there was still one matter of unfinished business to tend to. With no back catalog left to plunder and the comeback-LP angle already played, the Vaselines have effectively returned with the 20th-anniversary reissue of an album that never existed—in other words, V for Vaselines is the sort of radio-ready record Kelly and McKee might’ve released in 1994 had they stuck it out long enough to get signed by DGC, hire Gil Norton as producer, and score a fluke Buzz Bin hit to get sandwiched between Veruca Salt and Weezer in heavy MTV rotation. That may not be welcome news for those who fell in love with the Vaselines for their off-the-cuff intimacy and try-anything-once grab-bag experimentation, but, in stark contrast to the predictable ’89-throwback slackness of Sex With an X, V for Vaselines is surprisingly the band’s punchiest, most polished effort to date. (That motorcycle you see McKee straddling on the hilariously Tom of Finland-esque album cover isn’t just some sexually suggestive prop, but the vehicle of choice for road-testing these power-pop pick-me-ups.)

Reportedly inspired by a restoked appreciation for the Ramones, V for Vaselines doesn’t so much approximate the bruddahs’ buzzsaw attack as their hooky immediacy, to the point where a casual mid-tempo gallop like “Inky Lies” feels every bit as spirited and effervescent as asphalt-ripping rockers like “High Tide Low Tide” and “Number One Crush”. But while the Vaselines may never totally outgrow their affinity for tawdry metaphor (“There was a time when all I had was sorrow/ But I met you, so I go boom with you”), V for Vaselines eases up on some of the cheekiness without sacrificing their charm, whether it’s McKee acknowledging her preference for slow-motion living in a totally wired world (“I’m not in it to win it,” she admits on the careening “Earth Is Speeding”), or hearing this playfully combative former couple restage a lovers spat on the beautifully breezy ballad “Single Spies”.

Even at a swift 34 minutes, V for Vaselines doesn’t always adhere to Ramones-like standards of brevity—the songs here tend to follow a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus-chorus pattern that can make even a three-minute thriller like “One Lost Year” feel a tad overlong. But maybe all that repetition is the Vaselines’ way of saying of enjoy it while it lasts—on the “Just Like Honey”-dipped closer, “Last Half Hour”, Kelly and McKee sign off by singing, “Switch on, switch off, turn the lights low/ Final curtain, end of the show.” Whether this is indeed the end or just the set-up ruse for their next comeback, V for Vaselines leaves a lasting pop smear.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork