On their lark of a debut album, 2007’s Cookies, 1990s were channeling everyone in the Brit-pop canon from T-Rex to Suede, acting as if the late-'90s collapse of the genre never happened. That they came off as a more fun-loving version of Franz Ferdinand wasn’t surprising: 1990s main man, Jackie McKeown, was the lead singer for Scottish rock cult hits Yummy Fur, which once counted Alexander Kapranos as a member, and the band was created as a bar band that McKeown could play in for fun. But then someone discovered them, and they were signed by Rough Trade.
1990s’ sophomore effort, Kicks, is essentially Cookies: II, with a minor change of focus, from getting wasted in Glasgow to chasing women and getting wasted in Glasgow. The producer is even the same. Former Suede frontman Bernard Butler helms the boards here, giving everything a glittery sheen. Not that either is necessarily a bad thing: Kicks features svelte and punchy songcrafting in abundance and hooks piled on top of hooks.
Bouncy opener “Vondelpark” features an indelible wordless chorus that sounds like the middle-register harmony from a barbershop-quartet singer. The album highlight, the strutting Marc Bolan-on-juice “Tell Me When You’re Ready,” is next. McKeown tells a girl she looks better when she’s “ready,” which could mean any number of vaguely sexual things, but it never gets bogged down by vapid skirt-chasing. Kate Jackson, formerly of the Long Blondes, adds backing vocals to the muscular “Kickstrasse,” a track that finds McKeown equating meeting a woman to planes hitting buildings.
Kicks falters toward the latter half, when the songs get bigger and dumber (like “The Box,” which has a chorus that suggests putting a girl in a box because she’s annoying, and then thinking about joining her, and “Giddy Up,” which sounds positively aimless). Overall, there’s too much glam-rock posing, which 1990s avoided (mostly) last time out, and since they’re not open to experimenting with their sound much (like, say, Franz Ferdinand), the shtick begins to wear over the course of the 40 minutes.
On Cookies, 1990s sounded like they were happy to be invited to the party, and then proceeded to stomp through an album steeped in braggadocio and loose times. Kicks is like that to a degree, but it also feels like an album for the morning after the benders mentioned on Cookies, alternately projecting weariness and joviality. As a result, Kicks is less of a cocky triumph, but it still cements 1990s’ position as the torchbearers for no-nonsense Brit-pop.