There are these bars in New York (and presumably in any other reasonably with-it American city; NYC ain’t the center of the universe, you know) where the deejays loudly spin ’80s pop-disco junk every damn night: synth-heavy glop with quick big-drum beats and dramatic choruses, as recorded by good bands such as the Smiths and not-good bands such as [insert your fave crappy Euro one-off here]. Overall, the song choices invariably skew toward the latter. But the good/bad distinction means nothing in context, that context being: loud sweaty crowded dancing drinking et cetera. Isn’t context somethin’? In those bars, songs by bands you would never bother listening to at the home base can sound like the greatest music ever made. “This is the greatest music ever made!” you’ll shout in those bars, knowing you’re kidding yourself but really not giving a damn.
The third record by French Kicks sounds as though it could fit snugly in the stereo systems of some of those bars. For an album made in 2006, Two Thousand has a remarkably authentic Euro-pop-disco-’80s-junk feel to it, only with more guitars than keyboards (which doesn’t mean there aren’t any keyboards). And for sure a roomful of urban hipsters’ (proper) response would be to dance to it. These ten songs are all up-tempo — even the “quiet” ones, which is no mean feat. Best of all, they will absolutely not inspire any of the “Livin’ on a Prayer”-style singing-alonging so common to those bars, because French Kicks’ lyrics are basically unintelligible drawn-out vowel sounds and slippery syllables. That’s fine by me; you got nothing to say, you don’t say nothing, am I right? Just wail and croon and “emote” with your big Bono-ish voice (which is precisely what lead singer Nick Stumpf does) over a tight rhythm section and simple guitar riffs plus keyboard noise (the rest of the band’s job).
[Quick aside: Have I mentioned that despite sounding more European than cheese, the members of the French Kicks are American? I think they’re based in Brooklyn, actually. Maybe they should consider changing their name to the U.S. Kicks — or better yet, the French Head-Butts! Ha ha topical humor ha ha ha. Okay, time to wrap this thing up.]
So Two Thousand is rich in guitar-disco atmosphere and tone. But it’s weirdly lacking in personality. Here’s why: Stumpf’s inscrutable vocals ask you to focus on melody, not lyrical content, but the melodies never explicitly reveal themselves, no matter how many times you listen close. They just aren’t that interesting — or rather, not nearly as interesting as the rhythm section is. (Exception: the Belle and Sebastian-esque pop ditty “No Mean Time.”) I thought this record would grow on me the more I listened to it — it has an instantly appealing sound — but I wound up becoming increasingly convinced that it belongs in the background. Perhaps on the right night, at the right volume, with the right people or person, Two Thousand might be just good enough to sound like the greatest music ever made.