Were it not for Kurt Cobain, hardly anyone would know about The Vaselines. Relatively speaking, hardly anyone knows all that much about them anyway. And perhaps that’s part of their allure. Regardless of shifting trends and sales figures and download charts and radio play, The Vaselines continue to make their music on the very fringes of the public gaze. Apparently unaffected by any desire to court wider commercial success, they stubbornly please themselves and delight in doing their own sweet and faintly off-key thing – or else, they disappear for years on end and don’t do their thing; there’s a very strong sense that this band dances to nobody’s tune but their own.
But while they may not have reached the dizzying available-in-Asda heights of other bands, to me they rank amongst Scotland’s finest. I love everything about them. I love those clanging and reverberating guitars which sound like they’re coming straight from the stage of a cider-soaked Student Union building. I love those shameless rhymes and playful lyrics which contrast starkly with a much darker and often deeply weird sentiment. Take as an example of this, the song, ‘Ruined’. In unlikely partnership with the jaunty, toe-tapping tune is a lyric which references almost every illegal drug I can think of. Or if that’s not quite unexpected enough, how about the earlier track, ‘Rory Ride Me Raw’? It’s not hard to guess what this song is about and it’s not really one I want to be heard singing along to – and yet I always do sing along because the melody insists upon it. And then I love the way that all these bizarre lyrics are sung in such an effortless and frankly very ordinary way by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee.
And maybe that’s the magic ingredient that makes them so well-loved by their (modest) army of fans. Not everyone wants their pop stars to be perfectly packaged and apparently superhuman. Thank God then for British eccentricity. Or is it Scottish singularity? Whatever it is, this duo – so loved by the extraordinarily far-sighted Kurt – are quite obviously from the same planet as me. I may know little of Scotland and less about their hometown of Glasgow but I feel an affinity with them. Their lyrics don’t blow my mind but they do make me smile. Kelly and McKee look good rather than God-like. Their voices are… well… not so different from yours probably. Or even mine.
The Vaselines are familiar and relatable and likeable and sincere. There is honesty and integrity in the music that they play. You get the sense that they want us to like what they do but they refuse to pander to anyone. ‘V’ may well be for Vaselines – but in this world where would-be pop idols come and go, ‘V’ also stands for Victorious.