[4 June 2009]
Believe it or not, three quarters of Franz Ferdinand are well into their 30s. Looking as sharp and as now (well, in 2004 at least) as they do, it’s pretty hard to believe. But being older than the average scene-leading indie band means they have a past, too. Not one consisting of nights spent stacking shelves in Tesco, but more nights getting sweaty with local scenesters in little-known yet largely-respected Scottish indie bands. One of those bands was the Yummy Fur, a John Peel-endorsed outfit with a promising future.
But with the Yummy Fur disbanding after receiving so much critical acclaim, it was obvious that at least some of the members would go to form their own, possibly more successful, acts. While Paul Thomson and Alex Kapranos went on to form Franz Ferdinand, lead singer John McKneown became the founding member of fellow Glaswegian band 1990s.
Despite the name, the 1990s’ sound is about as noughties indie as you can get—with a garage-rock-meets-new-wave identity underpinned with influences from both the ‘60s and ‘70s. So it’s no surprise that there are immediate noticeable similarities between 1990s and Franz Ferdinand. What sets them apart from their Scottish contemporaries are two things. Firstly, the lyrics: Whilst Alex Kapranos has always had a way with a wry line, John McKneown takes it a little bit further—his lyrics are more enjoyably observant, the humour finer-tuned. “In your box”, he sings on “The Box”, “that’s the place I keep my pants and socks”. It’s hardly Wordsworth, but that’s what makes it so delightful.
The second quality that sets 1990s apart from Franz Ferdinand is not exactly their sound, but more the execution and production of it. The Franz boys have always had an eye on the charts, each of their songs sounding distinctly like a potential attack on the UK Top 40 singles charts. 1990s, however, sound content with a defiantly indie-doing-pop approach—there are killer choruses at every corner, but they’re not over-polished at the production stage, nor are they wheeled out to the point of overkill. There’s a reason 1990s signed to the Rough Trade label, UK home of the Strokes, and previously the Libertines and the Smiths.
Where 1990s do falter is actually on the tracks where they try and expand their sound. As with their debut, there’s a clear new-wave influence with plenty of ‘60s pop and ‘70s Bowie flourishes—but they’ve developed a tendancy to go a bit, well, ‘70s glam rock. The biggest culprit is first single “The Box”, and it’s actually possibly the worst track on the album.
The best moments on Kicks are when 1990s concentrate on the groove and clever lyrics, and less on sounding ‘big’—as on “59” (“It drives me crazy / Your left eye is kinda lazy”), “Balthazar”, and “Everybody Please Relax”. And token ‘ballad’ “Local Science” is a belter—yet with backing vocals previously used during more wry moments, it’s hard to take it completely seriously.
While it’s unlikely 1990s will follow Franz Ferdinand into the charts anytime soon, Kicks proves they’ve got the hooks and the personality to attract a respectable following, and a packed dancefloor at the local indie disco. Kicks certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it has a whole lotta fun copying it.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/93630-1990s-kicks/