Steve Wilson. On music.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thus continues the Top 25 for 2010 Countdown!

Welcome to the top 25 for 2010 Countdown! Each day we'll countdown, today we continue with number 24, culminating with our (okay, my) numero uno album of the year. When they're handy I'll borrow my earlier reviews from the KC Free Press, as I have in this case. In the event one of my top 25 selections isn't something I've reviewed previously I'll dash off a new review.

I welcome all comments, criticisms, questions and dialog in general.

25. Jon Langford - Old Devils (Bloodshot)
24. Vaselines - Sex with an X (Sub Pop)

“They’re back; they’re still Scots, still clever, still charming”
Kurt Cobain loved the Vaselines. I think Cobain coveted their cheeky innocence and melodic ease, qualities denied to him in the River’s Edge-flannel, sourpuss machismo of the Seattle scene circa 1988-1993. Songs like “Molly’s Lips,” and “Rory Ride Me Raw” gave him the nerve to dash off ditties like “Sliver.”

Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee wrote songs with the off the cuff charm of the sing-a-long, hootenanny folk era, only the their tunes were smutty-sweet anthems to young libido and infatuation – a liberation of a sort, but not one anticipated by the Pete Seeger set. Their brief non-career is best surveyed on the excellent Sub Pop retrospective Enter the Vaselines. Nirvana covers of “Molly’s Lips,” “Son of a Gun,” and “Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam” probably helped pay the bills over the ensuing two decades as Kelly fronted Eugenius and McKee casually pursued a solo career.

The Vaselines reformation has picked up steam since a first reunion in 2006. This year finds them selected by fellow Glaswegians Belle and Sebastian for this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties fest. They won’t be sticking to their lovely catalog; they’ll have a new release, to promote. Fortunately, it’s a corker that stands confidently next to their old material. This time their lineup is a bit more of a straight up rocking outfit, but their songs, singing and collaborative charm are unchanged.

“Ruined” is 2:10 of churning anti-star (dom) polemics. The title song opines “it feels so good it must be bad for me; let’s do it, do it again,” Kelly and McKee tipping their hat to their Calvinist baggage and giving it the finger at the same time. “The Devil’s Inside Me” is “Sex with an X’s” darker cousin (“made me push you against the wall”) and has a brooding intensity that begs certain Vaselines/Nirvana and chicken or the egg questions.

“Overweight but Over You” is as catchy as a “Chinnichap” number (Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn produced hard pop hits for the likes of Sweet and Suzy Quatro back in the Seventies) and manages to connect erotic depression and food abuse. The Vaselines’ Kinks-love is evidenced on tracks like “Such a Fool,” and “Poison Pen,” the latter borrowing heavily from Muswell Hill’s finest (“Tired of Waiting”). “I Hate the 80’s” is dead funny and a bit more ambivalent than the title suggests. As Kelly and McKee observe “it wasn’t all Duran Duran.” And while they hedge their bets in memory of fellow travelers like the Pastels and Orange Juice, the Vaselines finally conclude the decade “was shit.”

“Whitechapel” resembles the Raveonettes a bit, saluting a “wonderful night,” but not without an undercurrent of foreboding. The Vaselines’ funny take on religious certitude “My God’s Bigger Than Your God” is representative of the band’s wit and charmed pop naiveté. “Exit the Vaselines” puns on their recent retrospective and remains cryptic about the band’s future. Whatever that future may hold, Sex with an X is testimony to the Vaselines’ unique and enduring charms.

Reverberating: 8.5 (original), upgraded to 8.7