Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Glasgow quartet Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled 2004 debut remains one of the decade’s best albums – ridiculously catchy, smart, and fresh. The band had that well-tailored, art-school mien that British acts seem to so effortlessly possess, along with a certain tongue-in-cheek, Continental charm and decadence. After over two years of constant touring and the quickly recorded sophomore album, You Could Have it So Much Better, it looked like the boys were in danger of burning out. They didn’t exactly disappear, but they kept a low profile: lead singer Alex Kapranos produced the Cribs and published a food book, the band showed up on a Serge Gainsbourgh tribute, and also did a faithful cover of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends.”
In interviews, the band has described latest albumTonight: Franz Ferdinand as “more dance than rock.” While that’s largely accurate, it’s not terribly helpful. After all, one of the band’s greatest strengths is that its indie-rock songs are highly danceable, while at the same time incorporating disco’s sweaty exuberance and its ambiguous sexuality. Along with bands like LCD Soundsystem, the Rapture, Hot Chip and Hercules & Love Affair, the band represents a mainstream embrace of one-time rivals disco and rock.
Tonight kicks off in high gear with “Ulysses” and immediately shows that the band has lost none of its flair for infectious, memorable singles. Its opening slinky groove recalls Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” and the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue,” while Kapranos sings in a high, conspiratorial voice. The song eventually erupts in classic Franz Ferdinand form, with a full-throated chorus, dance floor rhythms, post-punk guitars. After the opening three-song salvo, the album changes pace with the more relaxed “Send Him Away” which incorporates a strolling tempo and what could pass for the theme song to a ’60s spy movie. The album’s middle section contains more keyboard-heavy songs; the jaunty, surging “Bite Hard” sounds like a classic slice of Britpop and wears a mild existential crisis on its sleeve: “Are you happy now that the gods are dying?/ Or do you dream of Heston with omniscient beard?”
Tonight does show the band experimenting a bit more. At nearly eight minutes, “Lucid Dreams” is the longest and perhaps most ambitious song they have recorded. What initially appears to be a nice companion piece to “Ulysses,” both with its catchiness and dark lyrics that belie these melodies, soon disintegrates into an electronic instrumental piece. With its bloated running time and sonic effects, replete with a keyboard solo, the song feels like a remix, albeit not a very club-ready one. The song loses itself and it never recovers, weakly trailing off rather than forcefully ending. The album loses some steam after such a workout; its final two songs are slower and more tender. “Dream Again” is quiet and ghostly, with the clichéd refrain of “I live to dream again.” The spare, sweet “Katherine Kiss Me” features a gently strummed acoustic guitar, vocals and piano. It ends the album simply and beautifully, recalling the wistfulness of fellow countrymen Belle & Sebastian.
Although Tonight incorporates more keyboards and a hint of studio experimentation, it’s still very much a classic Franz Ferdinand album that is instantly infectious and catchy. Given the amount of relentlessly mediocre, dull and unexciting bands that pass for rock and clog the radio waves, this couldn’t be better timed. Franz Ferdinand have returned with purpose, swagger, and better songs than the competition.