The Vaselines – Dying for It [1987]

If there’s an area of music that I’m not into yet, but I suspect I could be obsessed with, it’s probably twee/noise pop. There’s definitely something to be said for deliberately naïve, sweet lyrics; guitar playing that’s amateurish yet enthusiastic; and the entire cutesy vibe. The universally transferable genre spread everywhere, from the American Northwest to south-east Australia and all the way up north in Scotland, where today’s band – the Vaselines – originate from.

Based around a duo between songwriters (and sometime boyfriend/girlfriend) Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, the Vaselines were certainly a bit more lewd than their contemporaries – just look at song titles like ‘Rory Rides Me Raw’, ‘Sex Sux (Amen)’, and ‘Monsterpussy’ – but it’s possible to forgive them, especially when you hear their delightful Scottish accents singing. And while the first EP (Son of a Gun) and LP (Dum-Dum) have plenty of great songs of their own, the subject of this review is interim EP Dying for It.

The opening song of the EP, ‘Dying for It’, is unfortunately the least inspiring song on it. It does, admittedly, start with an impressive guitar riff from guest musician David Keegan over a driving post-punk drum beat. However, it pales in comparison to the other three tracks; all excellent quick pop tunes starting with ‘Molly’s Lips’. A cute tribute to the old Scottish TV star Molly Weir, McKee’s sugar-sweet voice pushes the track along its 1:45 length, narrowing the lyrics down to pure simplicity – “She said, she’d take me anywhere” over some cheerily strummed guitar and even bicycle horns.

‘Teenage Superstars’ is another standout, a bouncy pop-punk song of idle adolescent rebellion. Kelly and McKee combine for sheets of guitar noise, Charlie Kelly’s drums set a rapid time, and Kelly’s charmingly neutral voice yells at a hypothetical mother and spits vague religious metaphors – “I’m in hell and the angels cry because I’m trying to sell my soul” – before joined by McKee for the finale, a repeated shout of “I’m a teenage Jesus superstar!” It’s the sort of song that plenty of bands would kill to write, and yet the Vaselines are talented enough to squirrel it away on the B-side.

The Son of a Gun EP had ended with a cover song (‘You Think You’re a Man’, a hi-NRG raver written by Geoff Deane of Kinky Boots famous), and so Dying for It loosely followed that tradition. And tradition is where they went, stealing an old Christian hymn (‘I’ll Be a Sunbeam’) and turning it inside out. ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam’ is proven false literally in the first line, and the original’s refrain (“I can if I but try”) becomes “Don’t expect me to try” in the Vaselines’ chorus, the high point of the whole record. Kelly and McKee harmonise impressively enough that you’d think they’d been trained to do it, and a viola riff from guest musician Sophie Pragnell helps us glide down after the chorus. A delightful final song to an amazing EP.

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