The Vaselines

Sex with an X

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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra

The Vaselines broke up in 1989 just after the release of their only album, Dum Dum. The split was partly due to the members Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee splitting as a couple, partly down to not seeing a place for themselves in the music industry. Despite a brief reunion shortly after their demise to play a couple shows in support of Nirvana (Kurt Cobain was rather famously a huge fan of the band), the split seemed very final. Jump ahead almost 20 years to 1998 and a call from Sub Pop. The label, which had reissued the band’s work in 1992 with The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History, was throwing itself a huge party for its 20th anniversary and wanted the Vaselines to appear. Kelly and McKee said yes. The Sub Pop show and a couple others went well and they decided to do an album. After a year of writing songs and a couple weeks of recording, the record fans of the band never thought would appear, appeared. With backing from Stevie Jackson and Bob Kildea of Belle & Sebastian and production from old cohort Jamie Watson, the album certainly sounds like a Vaselines record. Slightly cleaned up but still very simple and direct, Sex with an X is filled with wryly humorous tunes that sport extremely catchy singalong choruses. There may be less danger, drugs, and silly sex in the sound and lyrics, but that’s probably to be expected. Thankfully, there’s far less maturity on hand than one might have feared. Kelly and McKee still gleefully take on religion, relationships, and sex, but it’s with a lighter touch and a bit more restraint. Instead of “Monsterpussy,” we get “Mouth to Mouth.” While fans of teenage smut may feel a slight letdown, that’s really not the Vaselines' problem. They realized it would sound weird to try to write the same kind of songs as middle-aged solid citizens and they show they can still be sexy and fun without being silly and scandalous. Lyrics aside, the important things is that the songs are as catchy as kissing disease and way more fun. Throw "Mouth to Mouth," "I Hate the 80’s," the title track, and "Such a Fool" on a mixtape and they’ll be instant highlights. Kelly and McKee still sound perfect singing together, trading lines like a woozy Nancy and Lee or singing in sweet harmony. Only this time they sound less like young lovers and more like old friends, thanks to the context. So many comebacks end up being embarrassing or lame that it’s easy to write them off without even hearing the result. Sex with an X is proof that Kelly and McKee were right to get back together, and while they don’t pick up exactly where they left off, it’s close enough to make their fans, both old and new, ecstatic.

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