The Way of the Vaselines

The Vaslines have sort of been hovering on the edge of my consciousness ever since I was 12 and obsessed with Incesticide but it’s only over the past few days that I’ve really, really focused on the question of what I think of this band, listening to The Way of the Vaselines over and over again. One striking thing, to me, is that though I’m innately suspicious of this conclusion, the first nine tracks appear to me to be uniformly superior to the final ten.

More to the point, is the fraught question of those Nirvana covers. Kurt Cobain’s renditions of “Molly’s Lips,” “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” and (especially) “Son of a Gun” are all better than the originals. What’s more, relative to their mates on the first half of the album, these three songs appear particularly weak. “Rory Rides Me Raw,” “You Think You’re a Man,” “Slushy,” and “Dying for It,” in particular, are clearly superior to those three. One possibility is that Nirvana deliberately selected Vaselines tracks that, while good, are not their strongest work; knowing that these were flawed tunes that Nirvana was capable of improving. To my, “Dying for It” makes this especially possible since it more closely resembles a Nirvana song than do the three they actually covered. Faced with a really great track, however, Cobain chose to be influenced rather than to cover. However, another slightly more disturbing possibility occurs to me. Namely that the perceived quality gap between the covered and the non-covered songs is an illusion. Maybe I prefer the non-covered ones to the covered ones because, due to a quirk of chronology, my subjective experience clearly holds that the Nirvana versions are the originals and the Vaselines are doing covers. Perhaps a subtle — and factually confused — narrative of authenticity is clouding my ability to see (or, I suppose, “hear”) what’s really going on.