Ever since the Beatles first stepped off that Pan Am flight back in 1964, cheeky lads have been a force to reckon with in pop music. From the Kinks to the Troggs, right up to Franz Ferdinand and Maxïmo Park, fun lovin’ and hard drinkin’ Brits have been able to get away with a lot, moptops or no. For a non-music related example, take a look at the storied history of Hugh Grant if you doubt the redemptive power of big eyes and a “what, me worry?” shrug. 1990s is the newest addition to the cheeky monkey galaxy—propelled by choppy guitars and a whole lot of charm, Cookies will make you get up and get your ass onto the dance floor, so long as no one slaps it first.
1990s (don’t make the rookie mistake of adding a “the” or apostrophe) are the sum total of a couple of Yummy Fur guys and, to listen to the album, a fair helping of uppers and vodka. Yummy Fur was a Glasgow pop band that is most famous now for once counting a young Alex Kapranos as member of its ranks. But the 1990s sound harkens back to a simpler time, a bass-guitar-drums outfit that sounds sort of like old Rolling Stones, sort of like old Pulp, and nothing like you’ve heard lately. Cookies is their first album, but it sounds like these guys have been playing in crowded bars for gyrating, drunken art students for years. And that’s a very good thing.
“You Made Me Like It” opens the album (and is Cookies’ first single). I’ve listened to it quite a few times, and the words are surprisingly intelligible, but I’m still not quite clear on exactly what “it” lead singer Jackie McKeown refers to. That’s all right, though, because with irreverent, playful lyrics like, “Ladytron, Lady Di / How’d you make your baby cry?”, you don’t need everything to make sense. The song has an Elvis Costello, “Pump It Up” feeling to it, with a persistent drum beat behind and a swaggering lead vocal in front. The breathy chorus of repeated “ahs” would sound completely at home on an Architecture in Helsinki album (as would the lyrical references to Mozambique).
This constant updating of old musical tricks with contemporary pops and fizzes is a hallmark of 1990s style. The music itself is updated 1960s pop: the boys cite the Rolling Stones as a major influence, and Cookies has much of the grungy, ramshackle magic of Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. In “Cult Status”, McKeown sings the title phrase in the same drawn-out drawl Mick used for “Brown Sugar”. This is by no means the Jackie McKeown Show, however: drummer Michael McGaughrin shares vocal duties on some of the tracks, and he and bass player Jamie McMorrow do an excellent job of tightening up grooves and keeping the action under control. Album standout “See You at the Lights” is a good song made great by a fantastically yellable chorus and the line “Get out to a bar / Get out like a blonde gets out of a car”. And so we return to the cheeky lad portion of the review.
There are a lot of clever, cutting lines in this album, lots of references to taking many drugs and then taking even more, and in the hands of a less assured band these things would come off sounding callow and glib. Here, however, McKeown and company manage to sound utterly harmless and friendly—the smart alecks with hearts of gold. Case in point, the following lines off of “Enjoying Myself”:
Some people ask if I’m enjoying myself
And I say
I haven’t decided yet
I’m just enjoying myself
And maybe you can enjoy me too
There’s an art to singing lines like those and not coming across as a total asshole, and 1990s have mastered it. In their song “Cult Status”, 1990s sing about how their cult status keeps them alive, the singer going as far as to claim that his bankable amount of indie cred “keeps me fucking your wife”. Soon, it won’t be only the legions of Glaswegian husbands that fear imminent cuckolding. Albums like this one are too enjoyable to be kept secret for very long.
// Notes from the Road
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