1990s (the band, not the decade)
Think back to the 1990s. What comes to mind? For me and many others engaged in music, we all remember the uprising of grunge, alternative, and Brit-pop. Indeed, we know them as the glory years before the formulaic boy bands and plastic pop stars invaded the airwaves. For John McKeown, the frontman for a band whose name gives a nod to the decade, he most likely remembers those ten years as a time of musical progressions, experiences, and regrets. In the mid 90s, McKeown led a band from Glasgow who called themselves Yummy Fur. While they never saw major success outside of Glasgow, their claim to fame came after the band’s demise in 1999. After keyboardist Mark Gibbons committed suicide that same year, two of Yummy Fur’s members, Alex Kapranos and Paul Thomson, went on to form Franz Ferdinand, resulting in a form of success that most young lads from Glasgow can only dream of. It would be expected that McKeown, after the death of a friend and seeing his previous bandmates excel in a different project, would fall under the pressures of failure and regret. Instead, he diligently chose to strike back.
In 2005, sick of their futile attempts on the music scene, McKeown and Michael McGaughrin (ex-drummer for V Twin and McKeown’s “drug buddy”) initially decided to call it quits. According to the two, their motto during this turbulent time was apparently “take a lot of drugs and get really really really drunk and party all night long.” Who knew that their flawed lifestyle would lead to their first form of true success? With an ideology focused on fun and youth, the two began writing songs together for the pure joke of it. With the songs intentionally sounding like a mockery of “mad little 70s New York rock songs with really ridiculous lyrics”, McKeown and McGaughrin realized shortly thereafter that they actually had something going. After writing a few more songs and playing alongside the legendary Damo Suzuki, they joined up with bassist Jamie McMorrow and put their new project, 1990s, into full motion. Almost immediately after their sixth gig, they were signed to Rough Trade. Active for over thirteen years, the success felt relatively new to McKeown, who still realized that this opportunity was not one to be wasted. With the name of a well-known label attracting the crowds, 1990s toured with the likes of The Strokes, Belle & Sebastian, and even McKeown’s old mates, Franz Ferdinand. Showing no love lost, the remaining trio from Yummy Fur apparently remain friends and touring partners.
If you have not noticed by now, in traditional Scottish fashion, the three members of 1990s all have last names that begin with “Mc”. Vocalist and guitarist Jackie McKeown, drummer Michael McGaughrin, and bassist Jamie McMorrow. That is what one would call a fashionable coincidence. The (Mc)1990s released their debut album, Cookies, in May in the UK. Produced by Bernard Butler (Suede, The Tears), the US will see a July 31st release date, preceded by the debut American single, “See You At The Lights“, on June 19th. The single has already reached #102 on the UK charts, primarily attributed to the band’s modernistic approach. While primarily drawing on classic acts like the Rolling Stones and the Stooges with their raw rock ‘n’ roll sound, the guitar production and song structures are more reminiscable of the same art-rock explosion that McKeown’s former bandmates, Franz Ferdinand, helped establish to a broad audience. The opener to Cookies and the band’s first single, “You Made Me Like It”, sounds like a cross between the Rolling Stones, Violent Femmes, and Franz Ferdinand. With muttered vocals that are blatantly comparable to Mick Jagger or Gordon Gano, the excitable chorus is more reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To” to the effect that it will tire those who have heard it before.
Despite the overdrawing comparisons to the Stones or Franz Ferdinand, the innovation of 1990s is found in their rare and admirable approach. They seem content on holding the reputation that they are bringing back what made rock ‘n’ roll the respectable and organic genre that it is. There is no radical production technique, experimental instrumentation, or innovative failure. 1990s is simply a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer hammering out what they do best: making genuine rock ‘n’ roll. While it is an easy task to compare 1990s to a handful of artists stretching over the previous five decades, one must remember that complete creativity is an aspect that is hard to accomplish in the present age. When a band like 1990s comes around and embraces a previously enshrined genre with quality songs, critics who shout out claims of unoriginality need to sit down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the music of 1990s for what it is. Pure, natural, and honest rock ‘n’ roll are several aspects of the narrow, though enjoyable, 1990s, a band that plays music “like a blonde gets out of a car.”
Oh, one more thing. Be sure not to mix them up with The 1900s or call them “The 1990s” or “1990’s”. I have heard the members of 1990s are a bit particular.
- Alex Kapranos
- Franz Ferdinand
- New York