reezing rain doing a strathspey on the streets outside, Jackie McKeown—frontman for the Glasgow three-piece 1990s—faced a sold-out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom last month and apologized for bringing his native city’s dreary weather to New York City. Never mind the fact that the Big Apple typically receives more precipitation in a year than Glasgow, the point was made: the latest Scottish export had arrived in the States, complete with all the tartan cartoon imagery.
Jackie Dennis hasn’t gotten to them yet, so there’s no kilts and sporrans (thankfully), but 1990s do twiddle with countless other Scottish stereotypes: from the tales of barbaric, clannish conquests to the pleasure / punishment neurosis (“Restriction is half the fun,” McKeown sings in “Pollokshields”) to the get-paid, get-pissed approach to general leisure. There’s no moderation on Cookies, no inner temperate telling the lads, “Enough’s enough,” whether it’s following yet another crack about getting paralytic on drugs, another glammy, mascara-running-from-the-sweat-and-effort guitar solo, or that nth attempt to be cheeky.
This last offense is what hurriedly transforms Cookies into a frowning disappointment. What made McKeown’s previous outfit, the Yummy Fur, marginally interesting was the ability to take subjects like Glasgow sectarianism beyond tired Rangers-and-Celtic-jersey concepts and back again, all through a restrained use of humorous devices. It’s certainly not heard on 1990s’ debut. Lamenting his position as a pop golden calf in “Cult Status,” McKeown delivers couplets like “My cult status keeps me alive / My cult status keeps me fucking your wife” with wink-wink-nudge-nudge gusto. All that’s missing is the laugh track.
A bit of mouse clicking revealed 1990s to allegedly be nothing more than an outfit for entertaining chums at summer bashes. It appears McKeown and crew possess little desire to mimic the sonic stylings of other Scottish imports: the three-dimensional pastiche of the Beta Band, the china-fragile epics of My Latest Novel. Theirs is a take-it-or-leave-it guitar bravado sprung from a hundred nights surviving rowdy, beer-drenched broom closets—a menace and magnetism harkening back 50 years to Glasgow’s dancehall scene: bustling rock ‘n’ roll venues stuffed with shuffling couples, the Saturday night euphoria one flick-knife slash away from descending into chaos thanks to the city’s ubiquitous gangs. So yes, the energy is there, it’s just never transformed into anything consequential.
“You Made Me Like It” and the aforementioned “Cult Status” feature riffing the punters can shake their denim to, guitar parts flickering between catchy, chaotic, and clichéd. “See You at the Lights” and “You’re Supposed to Be My Friend” are ever shifting, 1990s nearly blowing out their transmission—and exhausting their influences, from the indefatigable spunk of T. Rex to the spit-bedaubed punk of the Skids and the Undertones to the trash ‘n’ thrash of the Arctic Monkeys-Babyshambles-Dirty Pretty Things triumvirate. The stoner’s lament “Weed” (the closest thing 1990s have to a ballad; fitting) goes nowhere, loitering like the purple smoke encircling McKeown’s happy head.
As every party band partaker inevitably discovers, the ditties always sound better when you’re fucked up. And rousing the next morning, dried out like a raisin, McKeown’s riffery still chiming in your head, you realize that beyond 1990s’ grog vitality, there’s little else to hang a kilt on.