NME & Guardian music correspondent Stephen Kelly sits in at Franz Ferdinand’s first play back of new album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand and delivers his exclusive verdict for Getintothis.
If 2008 has taught us anything – apart from not to trust bankers or call Andrew Sachs – it’s that the mid-noughties indie-to-arena revolution is beginning to die a very slow, painful and dull death.
Bloc Party‘s Intimacy was marred by inconsistencies too severe to ignore, Kaiser Chiefs rued the day they ever penned Everything is Average Now Days and then there was Razorlight‘s astonishingly awful Slipway Fires, an album so full of hot air you could dry your hands on it.
But then this is a new year, and this is Franz Ferdinand; the template of which all landfill indie has followed since their eponymous 2004 debut demanded the movement of hips from the radio as well as the dance-floor.
Yet contrary to follow-up You Could Have It So Much Better which arrived in haste and confidence, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is released on January 26 amid three years of production hell, abandoned sessions with pop-powerhouse Xenomania and Alex Kapranos going on about ’embracing a myriad of sounds‘. Whatever the hell that means.
What does Tonight… sound like then? And will you still love it tomorrow? Well we got an early listen…
Opening with brooding Bowie-esque bass, vocals sung just above mischievous whisper and a penchant for electronics, it could be inferred we’re listening to a darker Franz, one with a snarl in their hooks. Yet even Alexs’ cheeky – some may be inclined to say sexy – whisper of ‘wild‘ isn’t enough to disguise that at its core Ulysses is bread and butter Franz. It’s all there; you just got to look harder: the stomping rhythm, the angular guitars and a build up to a hook so big you could hang a whale off it; this is Franz in shameless pop-mode, and it’s a great start.
2. Turn It On
If Ulysses showed their brooding side, then Turn It On shows that Franz have found the funk, and not just any old funk, this is funk of the filthiest, slickest and sexiest kind. Ever the charmer, Karpanos pouts lines such as: ‘Gonna get you on your own – turn you on!‘ over an arrangement that thankfully shows a much more straight-forward hook-driven approach rather than the fussy and sometimes jarring production seen in You Could Have It So Much Better.
3. No You Girls
A highlight of many on Tonight, No You Girls shows Kapranos lamenting on how girls have no awareness of their ability to turn men into an irrational, over-thinking and confused moron while at the same time acting like a bragging, macho sod. Summing it up brilliantly with the line: Yes I love…I mean you know how I’d love to get to know you, it grips with swaggering rhythm that throws back to debut album songs such as …Matinee, with collapsing staccato guitars lines and a chorus that will make Radio One wet itself.
4. Send Him Away
Four tracks in and it’s getting abundantly clear that writing songs for arenas wasn’t the plan. Opening with a twinkling guitar rhythm that promises more than it delivers; Send Him Away disappointingly tries to be cleverer than it is; making it the closest we’ve got to filler so far. Yet it’s filler that Johnny Borrell would stab a kitten for.
5. Twilight Omens
I typed your number into my calculator, where it spelt a dirty word when you turned it upside down, you can turn my dirty world the right way round – yes, that is a lyric, and no, we didn’t know 5318008 was a phone number either. Anyway, Twilight Omens is another song that suggests more than it is but still has enough dark piano plinks – as lightweight a riff as it is – to carry you through it.
6. Bite Hard
Do we hear another single? This starts out as quite a subtle Eleanor Put Your Boots On kind of number before slapping itself out of depression, strutting its funky self over to that dance-floor and clears it in seconds -possibly injuring a man – with a filthily sharp disco romp which smacks of classic Franz, yet as its searing guitar solo and song title suggests, with a bite.
7. What She Came For
If any other man used the caddish chat-up line, ‘I’ve got a question for ya, where do you see yourself in five minutes time?‘, they’d have a lovely night picking shards of glass out of their face, but not Kapranos, he struts all over it with the kind of alpha-male bravado that makes this a bona-fide Franz classic.
Gliding effortlessly between pristine and ram-shackle, What She Came For is the pinnacle of production, rendering every riff, rhythm and beat absolutely vital, and therefore brilliant. Dripping in the kind of funky bass-lines and 80’s synths that has come to personify this album, it keeps the listener on the very edge until finally deciding to self-destruct in a monstrous guitar-solo. A dark, dance-floor hit.
8. Live Alone
It’s quite fitting that Kapranos name-checks New York half-way through this number as Live Alone could only have been born in the scuzz of the city’s New Wave discos. Coming on like the finer moments from The Strokes‘ Reptilia album, it swaggers through three minutes of dreamy Blondie-esque rhythms, scratchy Talking Heads guitars and a bass-line that still hasn’t lost the funk yet.
9. Can’t Stop Feeling
By this point you really do get the feeling that you could just DJ this album to discos from start to finish and no one would go away disappointed. Franz have the amazing ability to do the same thing over and over again, yet make it brilliantly refreshing each time. The Tonight… traits are all there: the funk, the big sing-along ending, the toot-toot 80’s electronics and the classic arty guitars. It may not be a ‘myriad of sounds‘, but it’s certainly not disappointing. Who wants Africa Express when you got disco-fever anyway?
10. Lucid Dreams
In terms of dark horses, this is pretty much in the pitch-black abyss. Anyone who heard the earlier – and in progress – version of Lucid Dreams released during the summer for a computer game won’t believe their ears. For what appears here isn’t the weedy indie-by-numbers track it was before, it’s now a beefed-up, rip-roaring pop-monster which struts its fuzzy riffs and synths well enough to work as a radio-pleaser, but yet has something far more spectacular up its sleeve.
Just as you think the pop-festivities are over the whole song collapses into a three-minute electronica beast which squelches with the kind of acid-techno destruction and swagger that would have Crystal Castles shaking in their leathers.
Lucid Dreams earlier version.
11. Dream Again
This is the comedown after the disco, funk and three-minute synth solos, and what a strange one it is. If you squint hard enough, it’s nearly a ballad, but one that – as the name suggests – floats along in a dream like, even psychedelic, state. ‘I live to dream again,’ Alex woozily declares from what sounds like a distant mountain, trippy.
12. Katherine Kiss Me
While sometimes hitting the target brilliantly, Franz Ferdinand have been known at times to be a bit of a lyrical minefield, so this lovely ending ballad, built on nothing more than gentle acoustic strums, is the perfect chance to show off their sensitive side, as opposed to the funked-up filth we’ve had for the past 40-minutes.
The event, and Katherine, in question here is the same subject of affections seen in No You Girls, and those with sharp enough ears will notice some of the exact same lyrics. The concept here is that No You Girls is a reflection of the front men put on when in male company (hence the sexed-up, bragging nature of it) whereas Katherine Kiss Me strips away the bravado to reveal the delicate, romantic side of when you’re alone with your love, or Katherine.
The result is a clever, subtle and heart-warming end to what has been an exhilarating, exhausting and most of all, exciting ride. Franz Ferdinand are back to their best, and suddenly 2009 is looking a lot brighter.
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is released on Monday January 26 by Domino Records.