There are two common misconceptions about The Vaselines, one of which alludes to the band being consigned to obscurity were it not for their most notable champion, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who regularly cited the little-known Scottish quartet as a primary influence on his own work. While there’s no doubt that Cobain’s reverence for The Vaselines helped to heighten their rise to cult status, in actuality, the band would have ultimately succeeded in that on their own accord. With wide-eyed vulgarity, their abrasive-yet-tender, shambling, primitive squall remains the perfect antidote to the cynical earnestness of most guitar music, and yet another prominent addition to Scottish indie pop’s fabled back story.
The era in which they formed has a lot to do with another fallacy that The Vaselines were original purveyors of twee. Arriving in 1986, at the height of NME’s C86 tape, it was during a time when indie pop became synonymous with the pervasive, genteel notion of twee, where anyone who didn’t have conventional rock voices - in particular, women who sounded intrinsically feminine - automatically pertained to a label that led to many negative connotations of anything associated with the cassette. Indeed, there is a naive innocence to The Vaselines’ familiar aesthetic, but they are essentially a rock band that built their sound around a shared propensity for smutty humour and primitive pop melodies.
Thankfully, On V for Vaselines - their third album proper - there is no sign of their lyrical wit waning, or any obvious indications of a shift in sound, but their spark has dimmed somewhat since 2010’s unexpected triumphant return Sex With An X, which is partly due to the slightly less shambolic guitar playing, and a general sense of detachment within the lyrics. Still, it’s not enough to deter fans of their usual guileless and effortless approach to song craft: vocal harmonies still predominate, and Eugene and Frances’ breezy interplay still works beautifully. Their ability to create strong, catchy riffs is all present and correct, and the use of different aspects of rock ‘n’ roll similarly prevails: opener “High Tide Low Tide” distinctly shares the same primitive and frantic pop brilliance of The Ramones, while "Last Half Hour"'s Spector-esque bass drum pattern is the album at its most languid and reflective, alongside the introspective, bittersweet “Single Spies”.
While Sex With An X sounded like the band had never been away, and rather a nostalgic counterpart to their 1989 debut Dum Dum, V for Vaselines is more indicative of a band who are decades into their careers, not so much mellowing with age, but sticking to what they know with slightly more focus on the present rather than the past. Granted, there are the sporadic moments where it doesn’t seem like The Vaselines have moved on that much at all – such as the lyrics that so frequently speak of adolescent frustration – and there’s a feeling that they aren’t quite stretching themselves enough here, but truth be told, we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a tried and tested formula, but no one really does it in a manner as unfailingly, beautifully hilarious as The Vaselines.