I went to see The Vaselines last May at Bowery Ballroom, and this is what I had to say about them: “They’re simultaneously the most adorable and most totally badass band I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was the accents, but I didn’t know it was so possible to be so darned cute, even while discussing masturbation and blow jobs between almost every song. At one point, France McKee stated that she drank the blood of virgin boys after every show, and all I could think was, ‘Aw, she is adorable!’ That perfectly encapsulates their music: completely accessible but with a very sharp edge.”
That holds true for the band’s new record, Sex With An X, an album that I recommend anyone who enjoys both fun and good music go out and buy immediately. As an unemployed, frustrated 20-something, I’ve learned one very important lesson since graduation: you’re not going to be good at everything right away. Doing something really well takes time and practice. And no matter how much America values youth and newness these days, there’s no replacing hard-won experience.
That’s why, in a sea of “chill-wave” and 60s garage rock bands filled with 23 year old songwriters that are really good but not yet great, Sex With An X is a complete stand-out. The Vaselines never made it big. Yes, Kurt Cobain was a huge fan, but until their reunion a few years ago, most young music aficionados probably didn’t even know who Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee were. It’s not as if this is some big reunion album by a hugely popular and influential 80s post-punk group. This is an album by a reunited group of underground, with-it, and savvy writers, who also happen to have had twenty plus years of experience since their last album.
This reads on almost every song. The band’s identity is so clear: a dark, dark humor framed by quick melodies and sharp, terse beats. A lot of the songs sound like grown up nursery rhymes, sing-song lessons on how to deal with a totally fucked up sense of love. The title track, “Sex With An X,” could easily be a track on one of those Kidz Bop CDs, which only makes it all the more biting. Lyrically, the band is sharp as a tack. Some of my favorite lines come from “Mouth To Mouth.” “Kiss me I’m in season/You make me this way/It all could be so easy/Like kissing with a k.” Simple AND brilliant. Kissing with a K. Sex with an X. Someone got clever with their consonants.
There’s a really great Hukser Du reference in “My God’s Bigger Than Your God” towards the very end of the album, a well-placed reminder of exactly the type of sensibility we’re dealing with here. Moments like that remind how wonderfully playful and referential rock music can be. Because of the strange nature of their career, The Vaselines get to be playfully self-referential on their own album. There’s a bunch of little things, for example, the closing track (“Exit The Vaselines”) is a play on their last compilation album, “Enter The Vaselines.” It’s a fun, funny album that never even approaches the danger of taking itself too seriously as some sort of come-back project. Of course it doesn’t. It’s The Vaselines.
So, the band had suddenly found themselves in a very unique position. They had the chance to make an album with a “cool” cache because of their recent renaissance, at an older age, with experience under their belts. The only other band I can think of that’s really, really gotten to do this is Sonic Youth (who am I forgetting?). Luckily for us, they seized their chance by just being themselves and making a natural album for them: funny, sharp as a chainsaw, and totally irreverent.