1990s, 'Kicks' (Rough Trade)

Critical Mass
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by Lindsey Thomas

Like most bands that shape songs around wisecracks, this trio used up their best gags on their debut (2007's charming Bernard Butler–produced Cookies). Here, high-spirited frontman Jackie McKeown daydreams about kooky Hollywood life on the stop-and-start "Everybody Please Relax," abetted by sunny '60s pop interludes, and then responds to a proposition involving an obscure sex act ("I Don't Even Know What That Is") with punky swagger and stinging guitar. There's an inverse relationship between the guitars and jokes: The riffs have gotten sharper and more jagged as the punch lines have grown duller and less imaginative. Minus his smart-alecky cheek, it's increasingly difficult for McKeown to hold your interest.

Listen: The 1990s, "The Box"

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