The Vaselines Sex with an X Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A welcome return – let’s hope they stick around for a bit longer this time.

Rob Webb 2010

It’s difficult to talk about Scottish fuzz-poppers The Vaselines without mentioning the ‘C’ word, so let’s get it out of the way. It’s certainly fair to say that they’re best known for Kurt Cobain’s patronage – Nirvana covered three of their songs (Son of a Gun, Molly’s Lips and Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam), and he even named his daughter Frances Bean after vocalist/guitarist Frances McKee – but that shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the rest of this intriguing story.

Formed in 1986, the band’s original tenure lasted only a few years – and produced just the one album. They broke up shortly after 1989 debut LP Dum-Dum, and despite several live reunions in the interim, have remained silent on the recording front since. It’s been 21 years in the making, then, but Sex with an X is a triumphant return, not to mention a reminder of just how influential their sound has been since they split – The Moldy Peaches, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Vivian Girls all owe considerable debts, for starters.

Recorded with original producer Jamie Watson and featuring members of Belle and Sebastian (Stevie Jackson plays guitar, Bobby Kildea bass) and 1990s (Michael McGaughrin, drums), it’s a record that reaffirms the power of simplicity in pop music. A few chords, a load of melody and some swooning boy-girl harmonies is their formula – one oft employed, but rarely done this well.

Singles Sex with an X and I Hate the 80s harbour the most brazen hooks ("It feels so good it must be bad for me" and "It wasn’t all Duran Duran Duran"), but it’s the consistently high quality of the songwriting here that’s most impressive – McKee and fellow vocalist/guitarist Eugene Kelly’s interplay on Such a Fool and the bluesy stomp of My God’s Bigger Than Your God are equally ‘pop’ picks. Yet when the pace slows on The Devil Inside Me and tender closer Exit the Vaselines, their other, more fragile side comes to the fore and is just as vital.

A welcome return, then – let’s hope they stick around for a bit longer this time.

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