This late in the '80s new-wave imitation game, it's eye-rolling to learn that yet another band—this time, it's 1990s, out of Glasgow, Scotland—is working to construct the ultimate Reagan-era pop album.
Naming itself after the Clinton decade is the band's effort to throw critics off the scent of the 1980s, but there's no way to mask the spiky guitars, chunky bass lines, and dance-beat drums—you know, all the components that the Killers' Brandon Flowers has abandoned in favor of Springsteen homages. In any case, Kicks, the band's second full-length for Rough Trade, catapults over much of this tiresome subgenre for the simple reason that every song sounds different from the one preceding it.
Singer Jackie McKeown likes to reference empty sex and pricey drugs a lot, but it's not meant to be taken seriously—or so we hope. Opening number "Vondelpark" is a straight-up rocker with aggressive, angular guitar lines pulled straight from the late Robert Quine's playbook. "Tell Me When You're Ready" is a dance-floor stomper adorned with synth flourishes, including that annoying missile-falling sound from the Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me." The stupidest swipe, though, occurs in "I Don't Know Even Know What That Is," when McKeown claims he "was just blowing a kiss / How did it come to this?" Still, he recovers nicely with the bubbly, effortless pop songs "Balthazar" and "Sparks."
It's uneven, but worth spinning before hitting the clubs.