The Vaselines – Sex With An X
Though Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee’s recordings as the Vaselines in the late ’80s and early ’90s were quite excellent, the group seemed destined to remain a cult band, a footnote in rock history. Of course all that changed when Kurt Cobain became a vocal fan, even having Nirvana cover “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam” for MTV Unplugged In New York. This prompted Sub Pop to release The Vaselines’ collected works as The Way of the Vaselines in 1992 and, upon a reunion concert at the label’s 20th anniversary music festival, Enter The Vaselines in 2009. The success of these reunion shows and retrospective compilations was large enough to bring on the prospect of new Vaselines material. The result of all this was Sex With An X, released in 2010, two decades since the band’s first and only studio album.
But even though it’s been roughly twenty years, not a whole lot has changed. Their sound may be cleaned up a bit, but the songs still ride on twee, boy-girl harmonies; squealing guitars; and, as the title implies, a sustained obsession with sex. The difference is that where Kelly used to beg, “Rory, ride me raw,” now he only says “let’s do it again.” The same sentiment to be sure, but there’s a bit more restraint, reflecting their age. Thing is, while Sex With An X is certainly a fun record, the Vaselines try to have their cake and eat it too, attempting to seem older while recapturing the feel of their glory days. Sometimes, it works. “Sex With An X” is the best thing on here, a mindlessly catchy song about succumbing to temptation that is classic Vaselines. “Mouth To Mouth” and the bright, funny “I Hate the 80s” are two other instantly memorable songs that prove growing up isn’t the same thing as maturity. But while the group’s lyrical restraint is acceptable and even welcomed in some places, the band plays it a bit too safe musically. Aside from the occasional standout, the rounded edges of the album make many songs feel too similar, lacking a clever lyrical flourish or a catchy enough hook to make them worth their salt. There certainly is more than enough potential here to justify Kelly and McKee’s reunion, and as comeback albums go, this one is quite decent. But still it’s hard not to wish that next time the Vaselines should try shaking things up a bit, even if their tried-and-true formula can still be rewarding after a two decade absence.