The Vaselines - Sex With An X

A glorious mix of vintage-sounding hooks and fresh, clever innovations.

There are plenty of music fans whose only knowledge of the Vaselines is due to Nirvana championing and covering the band back in the 90s. But hopefully all of that is about to change, as the enigmatic Glaswegian duo of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee are back with just their second full-length record of new material (and first in over 20 years), the stellar and spirited ‘Sex With An X’. Kelly and McKee are joined on the album by Stevie Jackson and Bob Kildea from Belle & Sebastian on guitar and bass, as well as 1990’s drummer Michael McGaughrin, with production handled by original Dum Dum producer Jamie Watson. That comfortable familiarity and kinship permeates these already catchy numbers, making these indelible songs sound like the long-lost proper follow-up to their late-80s debut, while also injecting the album with a thoroughly modern style and flair. It’s a glorious mix of vintage-sounding hooks and fresh, clever innovations, making it clear that Kelly and McKee can craft an unforgettable melody with the best of them.

The album starts with a garbled, old-fashioned recording, perhaps making light of the duo’s ‘elder statesman’ status in the music industry, before giving way to the driving drums and hard-edged guitar riffs of ‘Ruined’ that boldly announces that the Vaselines are back and they mean business. It’s a dynamic, explosive song that is over in a flash, leading into the instant singalong of the title track, which alludes to both the irresistibly melodious tunes in the band’s back catalog as well as the charm of their current comeback with the lines, ‘It feels so good, it must be bad for me. Let’s do it, let’s do it again.’ ‘The Devil Inside Me’ suggests that there may be darker motives causing the duo to record again, as if they’ve been cursed with this music growing inside of them and they just have to let it out. Thankfully, they have an outlet for these persistent sentiments, for it’s truly thrilling to finally have them back making music together again, despite all of the odds.

‘Overweight But Over You’ hilariously pokes fun at the perceived fitness level of the aging band, as well the dating proclivities of the ample bodied and societies growing dependency on plastic surgery.. And if the title alone doesn’t win you over, the infectious melody and chorus of the song certainly will. Kelly and McKee’s smooth vocal harmonies gracefully glide over the magnetic guitar riff of ‘Poison Pen,’ which bristles with a thoroughly contemporary sound that also manages to echo the band’s best work. And anyone who thinks the group might be bitter over never really cashing in on their underground popularity back in the day needs to listen to the hysterical lyrics of the kiss-off to the decade that both spawned and spurned them, ‘I Hate The 80s’: ‘Didn’t notice we got screwed… what do you know, you weren’t there. It wasn’t all Duran Duran. You want the truth, well this is it - I hate the 80s ‘cause the 80s was shit.’ It’s fantastically flippant, and clearly finds the band having fun with music history and their unheralded place in it.

‘Mouth To Mouth’ hints at the bands late-career resuscitation, while the Raveonettes-like fuzz of ‘Whitechapel’ speaks of the loss of time and relationships that comes from moving on. ‘My God’s Bigger Than Your God’ is certainly a timely enough number, but reaches for a theme and impact far greater and grander than this simple pop song can summon up. ‘Exit The Vaselines,’ with its defeated but indignant chorus of ‘Don’t even try, it’s only goodbye’ is the perfect ending to an album that no one really thought would ever be made. And now that we’ve gotten used to having the Vaselines around again (for the first time for some listeners), they are perhaps making another quick exit into the musical abyss. It’s a perfect escape, as is nearly all of ‘Sex With An X’. Here’s to hoping that instead of seeing some other band get famous while making these songs memorable in five years, we continue to see the Vaselines deliver these pure pop confections themselves, finally garnering, at long last, the recognition and accolades they have deserved from the start.

Tags: The Vaselines, Reviews, Album Reviews

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