Talking to a friend about cover versions, he said that his pal always preferred the first version of the song he heard rather than the first one recorded. Anguished, he told how his chum maintained that Jamie Cullum did a better version of High and Dry than Radiohead. With the ‘first past the lughole’ preference in mind, I was intrigued to listen to this aggregate collection of the Vaselines – ‘Enter The Vaselines’. Would the original versions of the late 80’s Scot indie band be better than the versions I knew by Messer’s Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl?
Kurt Cobain (from Aberdeen, USA) was a big fan of the Vaselines (from Glasgow, Scotland). So much so, that he is alleged to have described founder members Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee as his "most favourite songwriters in the whole world”. Which might explain why Nirvana released three Vaseline songs: "Molly's Lips” and "Son of a Gun" on 1992’s Incesticide and the more widely known "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" on the MTV Unplugged album.
Of course it’s unfair to talk about The Vaselines only in terms of being the band wot Kurt liked (which, I’ll confess, I seem to do in this review). However, it seems clear that the loud applause from the Grungemeister has been central in widening their fan base and in encouraging Sub Pop to re-release all their stuff…again (In 1992 Sub Pop packaged up just the two EP’s and the album).
This time the Seattle label has gone the whole way with this deluxe remastered album as it once again contains all the music ever released by the band, but is rounded off with some demos and two live sets recorded in Bristol and London. The two EP’s ‘Son of Gun’ and ‘Dying For It’ were originally on sale in 1987 and 1988, while their only album - ‘Dum-Dum’ - was originally released the week the band broke up in 1989. (Though they did reform - for the first time - to open the bill when Nirvana played Scotland in 1990).
So. A word to the wise: listening to the 36 songs in one sitting is hard work. Hearing three versions of “Son of a Gun” and “The Day I Was A Horse” is tough going (though I was happily humming the former for the rest of the day). The whole thing is much more agreeable when broken down into it's composite bits - with the looseness and humour of the live shows making them the most enjoyable slices.
With strong hints of a Velvet Underground drone, at their best the raw sound delivers catchy pieces of punk pop. However, it does feel a bit one-dimensional and, while it might simply be due to familiarity, I think Cobain picked out the best tunes (with the exception of the horse song). As for the battle of versions: It’s a close run thing, but I think Nirvana just edge it. The songs on Incesticide have more power and pedals, while the Vaselines lose vital points for the squeaky toy that needlessly appears on the EP version of ‘Mollys Lips’.
Here’s an editable spotify playlist of some covers and the originals. See if you can last more than the 40 seconds I managed of Jamie Cullum.