Dick’s Picks: Looking back at The Vaselines hidden gem of a debut album, Dum-Dum

As we have come to realise over the course of this series, often the best bands are those under appreciated in their time.  In the case of Scottish indie band, The Vaselines, it wasn’t really until their songs were covered by Nirvana that they would gain more notoriety. But make no mistake about it, their debut album, Dum-Dum­, is a hidden gem in the history of Scottish indie rock.

Forming in 1986, The Vaselines were initially the duo of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, and they released two EP’s, Son of a Gun and Dying For It. It was these two releases that enchanted Kurt Cobain, who would go on to describe the band as his “favourite songwriters in the whole world,” and would cover no less than three tracks from the two EPs (as well as name his daughter after McKee)

The band expanded to a four piece by 1989, and set about releasing their debut album. Having already garnered comparison to The Velvet Underground, which was further pushed on their debut album with the inclusion of synthesised strings, slide guitar, and even Indian raga sounds. It made the band feel more full, with a few nods towards new wave and post punk, while keeping their upbeat charm of their first releases.

The 10 tracks on Dum-Dum cruise by in less than 30 minutes, but it feels even quicker thanks to the saccharine hooks that give make you get lost in the record. From the upbeat Sex Sux (Amen), through the guitar driven Teenage Superstars and the psych-tinged Lovecraft­, the album rarely gives you a chance to breath. It was a masterclass in making the simplest songs sound both complex and meaningful.

Sadly, they would break up shortly after the release of the record, briefly reforming in 1990 to support Nirvana in Edinburgh. From there Kelly would join Nirvana on stage at the Reading Festival in 1991 for a run through Mollys Lips, and with the grunge icons performing a cover Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam during their MTV Unplugged In New York performance, The Vaselines would be exposed to a whole new audience.

Even without the association, The Vaselines deserve their own underground legacy, which they proved with two excellent albums in 2010 and 2014 respectively. Not to mention there are few bands with so little output that can say have had three compilations released of all their pre 1992 output.

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