KISS Vs. The Vaselines: Who Best Puts the X in Sex?

The shadow of the 1980s hangs over the Vaselines’ new album (their first release in twenty years!), Sex With An X. And not just inasmuch as there’s a song titled “I Hate The 80’s.” The album title and title track, um, title also bear an unfortunate resemblance to the make-up-less KISS song “Let’s Put the X in Sex.” But how do these pieces of Glaswegian indie-pop and American-made hard rock actually stack up?

THE HOOKS

Of the two, KISS’s “X” is far more immediate-sounding; these guys didn’t get to the point of selling their own brand of coffin by accident. “Let’s Put the X in Sex” starts off with a Stonesy stomp that quickly turns to blues riffing that recalls ZZ Top. For one of the band’s signature songs, the opening is weirdly un-KISS-like. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but still, originality points lost.

The chorus of KISS’s “X” is legitimately catchy, and this mind you is not coming from a KISS fan. Listening to the verses is a chore, and the less said about the bridge, the better, but I would not have imagined that I’d derive any amount of enjoyment from hearing Paul Stanley sing about his dong. Not bad at all.

The Vaselines song has a solid chorus as well–great, sing-song-y fun. Which is a gift! For everybody! And if the song had more of it, it’d be even better. But the duo pads out the song with a dull guitar solo midway through instead.

Points Awarded
Vaselines: 1
KISS: 2

THE LYRICS

KISS lyrics are famously bad, so maybe it’s unfair to include this category, but then again lots of Vaselines songs don’t go far beyond the level of schoolyard chants, poetry-wise. “Let’s Put The X In Sex” doesn’t pursue its noirish mystery-woman conceit very far, and the Vaselines mostly win by default, but the KISS song does have one great lyrical moment, as Stanley’s old flame arrives in his home and we learn that he’s an awful, awful detective:

I heard somebody knockin’ so I opened up the door/She wore a hat, shades, and a trench coat/Wasn’t wearin’ that much more/She said she knew my secrets but I didn’t have a clue/Then I saw those black lace panties and I knew that it was you

What?

V: 2
K: 1

THE PRODUCTION

The production on the Vaselines’ song is…fine? This is admittedly something I know very little about. But I do know bad production when I hear it, and the production on the KISS version is a typical, terrible, super-compressed ’80s rock recording. It sounds like Stanley is singing through a sheet of saran wrap.

V: 1
K: 0

THE ‘YOU-ARE-THERE’ SENSE OF EMOTIONAL INTIMACY, i.e. THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE SONG CONVINCINGLY APPROXIMATES THE TYPE OF UNIQUE ALMOST-SPIRITUAL INTERFACING WITH ANOTHER HUMAN BEING THAT’S–LET’S ACKNOWLEDGE–VERY DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE BY MEANS OTHER THAN THE ACTUAL CARNAL ACT, MUCH LESS REPLICATE IN A POP SONG

Neither song really achieves this, and a better critic would acknowledge that neither band is really going for it either. But there’s at least a cool meta layer to the Vaselines track, what with them being two former bandmates reunited and once again *ahem* making music together.

V: 1
K: 0

THE WINNERS: The Vaselines, 5-3. Although if it were “I Hate the ’80s” and “Lick It Up” being judged, the end tally would be considerably different.

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