My dad has a funny story about his little brother. His younger sibling used to tag along, on trips to the movies, or just to hang out. And, as big brothers tend to do, he and his friends used to tease little bro. My pops and his friends had bought a bottle of Coke. This was, of course, back when bottles of Coke were more prevalent than the ubiquitous cans. When the tagalong sib asked for a sip, my dad and his friends all mimicked spitting into the bottle, a tactic devised to dissuade the young boy from wanting to partake in the cold, sugary goodness on a hot summer’s day. Rather than the intended effect, however, the older gents got more than for which they bargained. The kid, either thinking this was part of a ritual, or perhaps smarter and more devious than his older counterparts (the reason is still shrouded in mystery), actually did spit into the bottle, making it then unappealing to older brother and friends, winning the entire rest of the frosty beverage for himself.
You might be wondering at this point what the above vignette has to do with a Glaswegian rock trio’s sophomore album. 1990s is a band that sprung, like Remus to Franz Ferdinand’s Romulus, from the wolf teat that was Yummy Fur. Their debut album, 2007’s Cookies, was a goofy, dirty, hilarious and incredibly catchy album that didn’t get near enough credit or attention. That album spawned three singles, and even more non-single tracks that became fan favorites, such as the tongue-in-cheek “Cult Status.” But, as we all know, Romulus slew Remus, going on to found Rome. Franz Ferdinand has symbolically done the same, reaching levels of fame the 1990s have not yet reached, as well as releasing a far better album in 2009.
Whereas Tonight is a sultry and seductive slice of late night flirtation, Kicks, the second album from 1990s, is a drunken and clumsy attempt at removing a girl’s bra, then puking on her shoes. It’s partly meant that way. Franz revels in skinny tie pop tightness, while 1990s are bluesy gutter dwellers, still appealing, but definitely grimier and a bit ruffled. Most of the songs on Kicks point to a Stones obsession, particularly the Tattoo You years, though quite a few resemble the Strokes covering Offspring. Case in point, the fairly unfunny “I Don’t Even Know What That Is,” a song response to an unwelcome and confusing `come on’ in a bar. Songs like “59” are incredibly infectious, but nowhere near the fuzzed out fun of their debut. In fact, “59” is so calculatedly catchy as to resemble a mix of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Faith.”
Only “Kickstrasse” comes close to the debut’s dirty goodness, luxuriating in nasty guitar licks, and sexy static. The Long Blondes’ Kate Jackson appears with background vocals, and adds the needed dichotomous touches of class and sultry sleaze. Not so with “Everybody Please Relax,” another unfunny track that finds its subject in the easiest of targets, Los Angeles and Scientology. Making fun of L.A. `culture’ is like saying New York is crime-ridden and dirty—it’s too easy and actually outdated, at least as outdated as the band’s name. And, sorry, no one should ever use the word “chillax” in a song. Who are you, Asher Roth? “Balthazar” gets back to the harmonizing pop of “59” and the result is nearly the same, a song of a lot of slick flash and very little substance. But the most cringe-worthy song of the bunch is “The Box,” housing some of the worst lyrics over the most plodding rhythms put to music. Let’s face it; the title alone is nearly as juvenile as someone naming a song “Lake Titicaca.”
Essentially, the trio comprising 1990s have taken the bottle of Coke away from Franz Ferdinand, Art Brut, the Long Blondes and Arctic Monkeys, and have hocked a massive loogie into it. There is nearly nothing innovative within Kicks. The production is slicker and the package glossier, but there is nothing of substance behind the veneer. Even the songs that tend to stray from the art punk stereotype end up sounding like throwaway bubblegum schmaltz. Kicks is not a terrible album, it’s just one that doesn’t live up to either its name, or the promising predecessor. 1990s may have thought it was clever by spitting into the bottle, but fun and games turned into something fairly gross, and they’re going to have to be the ones to drink the backwash.
The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth
The Rolling Stones – Dirty Work
The Cribs- The Cribs