In 1992, in the wake of Kurt Cobain's frequent boosting of this then-obscure Scottish band's records, Sub Pop compiled all released material from the group's 1986-89 existence on the CD compilation The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History. Well, lucky for us that subtitle turned out to be inaccurate.
Enter the two-CD, three-LP set Enter the Vaselines. Disc 1 is everything that was on Way of, and remains an exhilarating 19 tracks about sex, lack of sex, more sex, depression resulting from lack of sex, and even more sex (despite all the disavowals and misdirections they printed, track by track, back in '92). Musically a sort of power-pop post-punk usually made up of male/female vocals, jangling/buzzing/screeching guitar, and rudimentary forcebeat drumming, it's ridiculously catchy, and charmingly naïve in sound (especially Eugene Kelly's near monotone) and execution. For variety there are the drumless "Rory Rides Me Raw," the electronica excursion "You Think You're a Man," and Velvet Underground-esque viola on "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam."
Disc 2 kicks off with some really scruffy demos, and while "Son of a Gun" serves only to illustrate how helpful Stephan Pastel was in producing their two EPs, "Rosary Job" and "Red Poppy" are previously unreleased songs (jackpot!). Then comes a nearly unlistenable December 1986 concert trawl through the same three songs plus the other two from their first EP, with singing nearly as out-of-tune as the fidelity is low. By the time of the much longer 1988 concert that follows, they'd become more adept, so though it's still lo-fi, it's much more enjoyable, its headlong momentum suggesting a Scottish Feelies/Modern Lovers hybrid. And, adding one more song to their small discography, there's a loving cover of Gary Glitter's "I Didn't Know I Loved You ('til I Saw You Rock 'n' Roll)."
I'd say that disc 2 is for fans only and the rest of you can be satisfied with Way of, but at Sub Pop's entirely reasonable price (practically two-for-one) anybody who hasn't already got Way of might as well start with the whole shebang, and anybody who does have Way of has undoubtedly fallen in love with the Vaselines and will desperately want the demos and concerts. Let's face it, hearing "Molly's Lips" without the infamously clownish bike horn on the studio version is enough by itself to justify the investment. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer who splits his time between editing Culturecatch.com, working at the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix, and editing cognitive neuroscience books for Oxford University Press. No prizes for guessing which pays best.