FOREWORD: Wanna rock and roll all night and party everyday. That’s the slogan the 1990s tend to live by. Hung out with these guys prior to a smokin’ Bowery set in ’07. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Boozy working class trio, the 1990s, never sought praise outside the enthusiastic liquored-up Glasgow house party scene they fancied. But now they’ve gained club-sized international popularity due to delectable debut, Cookies. As an interesting sidebar, agile guitarist-vocalist John Mc Keown had played in the formative Yummy Fur, alongside Alex Kopranos and Paul Thompson, soon-to-be co-founders of renowned indie rockers, Franz Ferdinand. Hardly flustered by missing out on the international acclaim draped upon his ex-mates, Mc Keown temporarily quit the music biz, figuring the pursuit for mainstream acceptance was dumb anyway. Considered a more artsy, cerebral group, Yummy Fur may’ve lacked the visceral energy of the three comrades’ future endeavors, but it was only a humble beginning.
Before long, an ex-girlfriend told Mc Keown about an opening in former Can legend Damo Suzuki’s latest impromptu venture. He jumped at the chance to link up, befriending equally zany barfly, Michael Mc Gaughrin (drums), formerly of unheralded outfit, V Twin. The two became amazingly close drinking pals, but sensed Suzuki was too stringently constrained allowing heady improvisational mantras to clash with the frenetic high-energy blitzkriegs the youngish lads wanted to dispatch. Upon departure, they took bassist Jamie McMorrow along for the intoxicating ride.
“We were all friends who lived in the same mad Asian neighborhood. Damo Suzuki lived around the corner. He thought we’d get a band together. We did a couple gigs but Damo was doing the same routine every night.” Mc Keown then jokingly sneers, “We were playing good music but Damo was an old hippie. So we thought, let’s get the Kraut Jap hippie out of the band.”
He reclines a bit, then adds, “I’ve got a CD of the first gig we did with Damo Suzuki. Mike was off the one. His snares were where the bass drum should be and the bass drums were where the snares were supposed to be.”
“I was doing that purposely,” Mc Gaughrin sinisterly chimes in like he’s Doctor Evil with a Belgian dip moustache. “It was anarchic. I’d think you’d understand that.”
One primordial inspiration for the loony trio’s loose muse was Lou Reed’s profound urban leitmotif, Street Hassle. That radical ’78 platter thumbed its nose at conformist deadbeats and praised righteous indignation to the hilt, providing the 1990’s with nascent riotous spunk to spare. Gritty bohemian glam-rock lark, “Enjoying Myself,” with its shrewdly sniggered Reed-teed screed ‘fuck everybody else,’ convinced the Scottish scoundrels to turn their part-time hobby into legitimate original music. Though they had no ambition to record, tour, or compete with futilely trendy fads, they attended numerous private Glasgow gigs, took tons of recreational drugs, and had a helluva fun time.
“So one day I got really stoned and wrote five songs about what ridiculous things we’d been talking about,” Mc Keown explains. “In two weeks, we were suddenly onstage. But honestly, it wasn’t made for anyone to listen to. It was just for us. Next thing, we’re signed and we’re called the 1990s – the stupidest name in the world. Originally, we were gonna be the Sixties (a moniker more closely assimilating their garage rock sound). We changed that to the 1960s. We were trying to find a really bad name you’d never use.”
The 1990s are an awesome concoction channeling the spirit of visceral bad boy rockers while retaining a clandestine pop functionality tied to valued Beatles luminaries Big Star, the Raspberries, and the Romantics. As a welcome relief, these snotty mod punters display a cheeky sense of humor whether delivering quick-witted catchphrases, chewing up arena rock, or spewing filthy punk venom. On contagious debut, Cookies, the feisty crew rally ‘round tersely delinquent party jams. Opening salvo, “You Made Me Like It,” sets the frantic tone, bouncing hook-filled Hives-like ranting against a danceable ‘60s-charged cave-stomp. Energetic ‘70s-styled power pop stampede, “See You At The Lights,” piles exuberant harmonies atop ebullient melodies and a scorching rhythm. “Is There A Switch For That?” blends the Kinks, the Knack and Boomtown Rats into one snazzy new wave potion. Contemporaneous teen-preened lyrical innocence embeds nifty nick-nack patty-whacked acoustic divergence “Arcade Precinct,” relieving the drug-indulged glam-rock flippancy Cookies’ bulk so gloriously promotes.
Ex-Suede leader, Bernard Butler, handled production, stripping away any excessive masturbatory soloing or extended breaks while zoning in on each tunes’ salient point. He apparently reeled in studio overindulgence by telling them outright, ‘Save that for the stage, guys. Let’s find the song.’
Just when everything was coming to fruition, McMorrow abruptly quit. Curiously, famed Teenage Fanclub front man Norman Blake came aboard to play bass on a European jaunt. Afterwards, Dino Bardot joined the pixilated pair, embracing his inebriated cohorts’ rowdy vitality immediately. That said, beyond the 1990s goofy frat-boy veneer lies passionate musicians with limber chops hoisting a cavalcade of roughrider riffs.
Strangely, there’s sometimes no direct correlation between the musicians Mc Keown references as influences and the vigorous rumble he creates. His fret technique leans towards blazing hard rock gunfire, yet he truly admires Richard Thompson, an accomplished Anglo-folk icon whose clear-toned acoustical folk willfully lacks the soulful groove of other white contemporaries. Television’s unconventional post-punk legend Tom Verlaine, Blank Generation innovator Robert Quine (who toured with Lou Reed), and Fire Engines abrasively fertile Davey Henderson also intrigue Mc Keown.
Meanwhile, Bardot reveres artful four-string prog-rock masters Chris Squire (Yes) and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd). And though Mc Gaughrin claims he never became a drummer to emulate anyone specifically, he does respect The Who’s wildly maniacal Keith Moon and meritorious session men Jim Keltner and Hal Blaine.
“I was always physical so drums fit me. I didn’t know what to do with my hands,” Mc Gaughrin recalls, before jesting, “I didn’t discover my cock ‘til lots later.”
Onstage at Bowery Ballroom in October, the electrifying trio display pinpoint execution, stretching out only on hazily narcotic feedback-squealed retreat, “Weeds.” They shift into Jonathan Richman’s classic “Roadrunner” during the midst of rhapsodic nihilist rally “Enjoying Myself,” tonight’s celebratory highlight. There’s nary a note out of place as their constant boogie barrage assaults the cheerful audience. Mc Keown’s serrated guitar wankering gives infectious stomp “See You At The Lights” and rousing New York Dolls-hocked anthem “Cult Status” an even more dynamic lockstep groove than the studio versions. Fundamental rock and roll rarely procures this much ballsy aggression and rugged vim.
Concerning “Cult Status,” Mc Keown insists, “Everyone thinks it’s a satirization of the music scene, but it’s one of my most personal songs written about sitting around the house and having nothing to do. No band to play with.”
As for blunt-burning distention, “Weeds,” Mc Keown shares, “I wrote that on my three-string guitar at my flat. I was fucked up and all I could think about was weed. But it was written about a few friends I had that I’d partied with that stopped partying. Someone later told them, ‘Why don’t you take drugs anymore. You were never funnier than you were back then.’”
I guess the more some partygoers change the more others stay the same. Hanging with the gang after their set, I noticed a bottle o’ liquor making its rounds inside the tour van. And the smell of fresh herb filled the air. Maybe that’s how the 1990s are capable of relishing life on the road like the bohemian free-spirited journeymen they most certainly are. Say goodbye to abstinence.