The Vaselines are unique both in terms of their level of fame, and their life cycle as a musical entity. Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly were huge cult successes in the U.K for three years in the late 80s, releasing two EPs and one full-length record. They broke up, re-formed, opened for Nirvana, and disbanded again; all by 1990. And that was that. Or so they thought. 16 years later, they came together again, rather accidentally as Frances puts it, and are now global Glaswegian Gods.
Since reforming, the band has played their first-ever show in the US, as well as their first London gig in 20 years at the forum in 2009. They have also released two more albums, the latest of which is V Is For Vaselines, as well as a compilation album. If there ever was a musical group that harkened back to the old style British Revival movement of the 80s, it’s these guys (well guy and girl), with their infusion of rock, proto-punk, and grunge. Their loose lips are an added bonus and only add to their British-ness (or Scottish-ness in case anyone reading voted for independence).
Their live performance was everything a great Friday night show at the Electric Owl should be: loud, brash and really, really enjoyable. McKee and Kelly have great chemistry and are old hands at making sexual jibes at each other. The songs reflect that era and their personalities as well: soulful, personal, and unapologetic, infused with the political obviously. They know their style, they know their audience, and they know how to entertain.
Speaking of being unapologetic, Frances is clearly one who speaks her mind. The band’s first single “One Lost Year” was made available as a free download on their soundcloud, something Frances says was done without the band’s input or consent. In our conversation, she laments the fact that in the coming years it will be increasingly more difficult for musicians and bands to make a profit because everything will be downloadable or available without charge. Her bandmate Kelly has gone on record saying that he has never made any money doing music, save for what he wrote for Nirvana. Clearly, these are a couple of cats that do for love and the adrenaline rush of performing.
The album itself is a delight. There are your prototypical alt-rock songs, but the lead single is a simple, yet killer acoustic ballad. McKee and Kelly are great musicians, performers and brilliant writers and work most excellently as a team; better than most duos I have come across. (It should be noted that the band is not “officially a duo” as there are three other musicians on stage, but McKee and Kelly are the founders, leaders and run the show). It is fiercely independent and political while remaining topical; lyrics include references to the death of Margaret Thatcher, The Leveson Inquiry (phone hacking scandal for those of us across the pond) and – not surprisingly – the popularity and dearth of mP3 downloads. All things that I love, well except mp3s, because of their shit quality. And another thing: they know how to curse too. Vaseline is not just for chapped lips. It is for those who want to rock and rock hard.
V For Vaselines was released Sept 29, 2014 in the UK and one week later in the US, through their own label Rosary Music.
RIYL: Stooges, The Ramones, Joy Division