Saturday, July 11, 2009

Enter the Vaselines

In a perfect world, the Vaselines would have been as big as the Carpenters. Borne of a friendship with Glasgow heavyweights the Pastels, the musical ventures of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee (backed by James Seenan and Charlie Kelly) were the next logical step in Calvin Johnson's crusade for the International Pop Underground. Infusing K Records' childlike abandon with an undercurrent of raw sexuality, the cutest couple this side of Timbuk 3 represented the maturation of twee, providing in their three-year career the template for nearly every indie pop band since.

The two-disc Enter the Vaselines is the second Sub Pop compilation of Edinburgh's finest, expanding upon 1992's sublime The Way of the Vaselines: The Complete History. Disc one consists of that superlative collection, tracing the band's recorded output from 1987's Son of a Gun and Dying for It EPs to their only album, 1989's Dum-Dum. Students of classic alt rock will recognize at least a few of these tunes: "Son of a Gun", "Molly's Lips", and "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam" were frequently covered by Kurt Cobain, who openly touted the Vaselines as his favorite band.

The deeper cuts on this disc prove just as exceptional as the better-knowns, from the raucous glam of "Teenage Superstars" and "Sex Sux (Amen)" to the heartwarming jangle of "Rory Rides Me Raw" and "Slushy". The Vaselines flew their unique brand of freak flag at every opportunity, penning an ode to H.P. Lovecraft and offering an electroclash send-up of Divine's gutter disco classic "You Think You're a Man". Their punk credentials were verified by "Let's Get Ugly" and "No Hope", while their ingenuous collision of innocence and innuendo was perfected with "Monsterpussy", easily the best tribute to a pet cat since the Shaggs' "My Pal Foot-Foot". The repertoire on this disc is nothing short of indispensable, establishing the Vaselines as major contenders in the alt rock pantheon while keeping the listener longing for more. Luckily, disc two provides on the latter count.

The second half of Enter the Vaselines is comprised of demos and live cuts from throughout the band's career, including several previously unreleased tracks. "Rosary Job" and "Red Poppy" rank among the Vaselines' more precious outings, leaving one to wonder why they weren't included on any official releases until now, while the live performances from Bristol and London provide an electrifying glimpse into the band's reckless cohesion, corroborating the suspicion that their disdain for standard chops wasn't an affectation. These rare live documents may not remain the only way to hear the Vaselines onstage, however: Their current U.S. tour—the first of their career—has stirred rumors of a full-fledged comeback. As Eugene sings on "Slushy", "You'll never miss what you've never had." Here's a chance to see what you've been missing. A+

RIYL: Beat Happening, Tiger Trap, Nirvana, Belle and Sebastian, The Velvet Underground, The Magnetic Fields, The Shaggs

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