Usually there’s nothing worse than being forced to listen to a couple arguing. But Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly, the creative partnership at the heart of Vaselines, have elevated infighting to an art form. Even though they ceased to be an item more than two decades ago, needling each other before a crowd seems to be their default setting. They deliver scuzzy rock with added eye rolls.
Barely two short, sharp songs into a clattering set, some lyrical fudging makes McKee question Kelly’s memory. “Well, I remember the day Frances broke my heart,” he parries. “She probably doesn’t remember.” McKee looks plausibly contrite, before driving her dagger home. “Yes I do,” she says. “It was a great day.”
Then they play I Hate the 80s, an entertainingly bitter demolition of the Duran Duran decade. The Vaselines split up before their debut album was released, and got round to recording a follow-up only in 2010. Their third, V For Vaselines, is out this week and doesn’t stray too far from their haphazard template: a rancorous, indie-garage rumble where adult concerns – sex, love, death – are tackled with a melodic sweetness.
This particular Vaselines incarnation is perhaps the most robust ever, with McKee and Kelly bolstered by a backline trio of Glasgow indie stars, including guitarist Scott Paterson of Sons and Daughters. Tracks such as Monsterpussy, Sex Sux (Amen) and Slushy, from the earliest Vaselines phase, sound more muscular, while newer songs like Crazy Lady (“Who do you think that was about?” mutters Kelly) are surprisingly sleek.
They begin their encore with Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam, a song made famous when Nirvana covered it for their MTV Unplugged set . In 1994, it was an affectionate act of patronage that ensured the Vaselines escaped the gravity well of obscurity. These days, they seem to be doing OK under their own steam.