I have never met a Vain fan in my life. That’s not to say they don’t exist, because clearly they do. What I’m saying I have never been in a situation where someone told me, to my face, that they liked Vain. There are several possibilities for this miscarriage of rock’n’roll justice. One, maybe I’m not cool enough to know any Vain fans. Frankly, that seems unlikely. Two, maybe I’m too cool to know any Vain fans. That seems more plausible. Or maybe Vain fans just like keeping that shit to themselves.
Whatever the reason, I think it’s high time we accepted the cold, hard facts: Vain were fucking hip, man. Not as hip as Guns, obviously, or even Shout-era Crue, but not that far off, either. Like both of those bands in their formative years, Vain took more than a few cues from the snot and snarl of punk, and there’s a feral roar to their high-haired glam-bangers that sets them apart from the overcrowded, over-saturated, and thoroughly bled-out late 80’s spandex-metal free-for-all they got caught up in. In fact, you might even go so far as to say their debut, No Respect, is something of a sleeper cult classic.
Like Tuff – who Vain are often lumped in with, probably because they’re both four letter words – this band is basically one dude. Vain is, was, and will always be one Davy Vain, a with-it long-haired cat from San Francisco known before all the hoopla as a producer, most notably for early 80s SF thrashers Death Angel. He formed Vain in ’85 and again, like Tuff, the band built a huge (hairsprayed) head of steam before anybody had even heard them.
They eventually signed with Island (home of U2), who had the good sense to keep their debut, No Respect, rough n’ raw, unloosing it on the world in early 1989. Of course that was two years too late, but nobody knew that at the time. As such, it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. It was a late-game sleaze-metal album released the same year as, you know, Pretty Hate Machine and the Pixies’ Doolittle and Love and Rockets and Spacemen 3, so it was essentially doomed from the get-go. But it bashed away in the lower registers of the US rock charts for the summer, andKerrang! put ’em on their cover and blathered for six pages about their guaranteed rapid ascent to the top o’ the flash metal heap. So it had to be an exciting year for the fellas, at the very least.
The band did tour (with Skid Row) and spent the next couple years slugging it out in the trenches. A second album (All Those Strangers) was recorded, but the band got dropped from Island in 1991, and that was basically that. They carried on on their own, releasing a second album in ’93, but by then the fire was nothing but smouldering embers. I mean, do you remember 1993? Everybody was deep into alt-rock at the point. People were buying fucking Melvins records, man. Melvins and Afghan Whigs and Mazzy Star. There was no place for Vain in 1993. The band slithered below the radar and stayed there.
But this is not 1993. In a world where modern bands build their entire careers on sounding exactly like some obscure band from 1972, who really gives a fuck anymore? Let Vain be Vain, man. And while I can’t verify what they sounded like post No Respect, I can say their debut is a pleasingly ferocious slug-fest of gritty glam-metal with a surprising twist of goth and plenty of punk venom. Sure, it’s also got a soppy power ballad like every other flash metal record in existence, but for the most part, it’s a full-on roof-shaker. If you didn’t know it then, well, you know it now.
These days, Davy keeps Vain going with various players, and in various incarnations. They still play gigs, mostly in Europe, where they have an unwavering and slightly alarming respect for 1986 and all the plastic-fantastic glitter-metal it offered to the world. He’s also still producing, most recently Orchid’s occult-rock epic Sign of the Witch. He’s also done a lot of higher-profile pop stuff. So, you know, things worked out. But probably not the way he wanted them to. The prophetically-titled No Respect remains a sleazy little nugget of high-tension hard rock that basically does everything Faster Pussycat and LA Guns aspired to do without all the over-blown arena-metal bullshit. It’s back-alley sex rock by dudes who look and sound like they’d be pulling petty crimes if they didn’t have guitars. In a lot of ways, that’s what flash metal was all about: broken bottles, busted heads, wasted nights and shattered dreams. Vain nailed it, man. I don’t know why no one wants to admit that in public, but they did.