Older, slightly wiser Vaselines finally get around to long-awaited sophomore disc

It’s tempting to make a big deal out of “Sex With an X” (Sub Pop), the first new Vaselines album in more than two decades, but doing so would run contrary to the spirit of the band.

Based around the songwriting duo of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, the Glaswegian group has never been particularly ambitious. During their initial run, from 1986 to 1989, the Vaselines released just one album, and even in the early ’90s, when Nirvana was covering their songs and Kurt Cobain was talking them up in the press, they neglected to reform and capitalize on the massive publicity.

Maybe they knew they were ill-suited for the grunge era. Kelly and McKee specialized in slight, sarcastic pop music: two chords and a smirk. If Cobain saw the charm in the trifling likes of “Molly’s Lips” and “Son of a Gun” — both of which Nirvana covered — it doesn’t necessarily follow that angsty Pearl Jam and Soundgarden fans would have shared his enthusiasm.

After reforming in 2008 and touring the United States and Europe the following year (we caught them in Brooklyn), Kelly and McKee evidently decided they’d dallied long enough. They spent 13 days cutting “Sex With an X,” a record that, sonically speaking, harks back to a time when MTV still played videos and Dave Grohl was known for his drumming. (Stream the entire record here.)

The disc’s 12 tracks are as scrappy and grabby as the band’s early tunes, and as Kelly and McKee sing wobbly harmonies and pair clean and dirty guitars, they reference both the ’80s jangle of fellow Scots the Pastels and the crunch of early-’90s American alt-rock.

If there’s anything different about today’s Vaselines, it’s that they’re slightly more mature. They still sing songs like “Overweight But Over You,” “My God’s Bigger Than Your God” and “I Hate the 80’s” — irreverent looks at heartbreak, religion and nostalgia, respectively — but on “Such a Fool” and “Poison Pen,” they write about love like a couple of grown-ups.

On “Turning It On,” McKee sings, “Tempt me, fate, don’t lead me on/ darkness lies beyond.” Were he alive to hear it, Cobain might miss the classic Vaselines wit, but he’d relate to the sentiment.

— Kenneth Partridge

LISTEN
Sex With an X mp3
I Hate the 80’s mp3

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