Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Churchill, dance-punk, dance-rock, Disco, Do You Want To, dub, Evil Eye, Franz Ferdinand, Goodbye Lovers & Friends, Hitler, Mao, Panic! At The Disco, post-punk, reggae, Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action, sophomore slump, Stalin, Take Me Out, The Killers, The Strokes, Walk Away, You Could Have It So Much Better
Franz Ferdinand were once at the head of the post-punk revival pack. Their self-titled debut captured everything that was right with early century indie rock. They were self-aware without being self-indulgent, allowing intellectual exploration without pretension, sounding relatable and damn catchy throughout the record. However, as with all their peers, from The Killers to The Strokes to Bloc Party to Arctic Monkeys to Interpol to – you get the picture – they succumbed to the infamous disease so endemic to post-punk revival bands known as secondalbumitis. ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’ was a very enjoyable album, but it lacked focus. It felt like the band themselves were so surprised by the triumph of their debut that they didn’t quite know what to do with themselves. The sophomore slump was followed by ‘Tonight,’ a respectable effort, but again lacking direction. The Killers and The Strokes completely lost the magic on their third albums, while Arctic Monkeys really found themselves on their third effort. Franz Ferdinand did neither, feeling just as unfocused as their previous album despite the theoretically intriguing forays into dub and disco. This album continues on that trend of not having any idea of what they’re trying to accomplish. It recaptures some of the punch of their debut, and they balance the dance and the rock aspects of their style better than their last two albums, which tended towards one or the other, resulting in something of a return to the form of their debut. This does not mean that they’ve come back with an opus – it really all just sounds like generic Franz Ferdinand as a result of trying the “get back in touch with our roots” trope.
The first track and lead single, “Right Thoughts,” is spunky enough, appropriating disco beats and angular guitar, but with really meaningless lyrics and a melody that feels phoned in. I could see myself humming along to the chorus, but the verse is a bunch of throwaway lines like “almost everything could be forgotten,” which is probably the most accurate thing one could say about the lyrics here. “Evil Eye” is another song where the verse is pretty forgettable, but not so much like they were just written about 5 minutes before they recorded it, but a bit more like the trouble they had on ‘YCHISMB,’ where they stumbled over their flashy, melodramatic verses, like this gem from “Walk Away:” “The stab of stiletto on a silent night/Stalin smiles, Hitler laughs/Churchill claps Mao Tse-Tung on the back.” It comes off as clunky rather than poetic, and “Evil Eye” features such comparable lines as “what the colour of v-neck’s girl?/It’s Red you bastard (It’s Red you bastard)/I don’t believe in God but believe in this shit.” It recalls their days as the sleazy dancefloor denizens of yore rather than library-dwellers, but without any of the street smarts. “Love Illumination” features a metallic guitar line/synth combo also reminiscent of their second album, joined yet again by clumsy lyrics, but is charming nonetheless. Final track “Goodbye Lovers & Friends” is both the most ‘Tonight’ –esque track on the album, while also being the most lyrically sophisticated, sounding just as mature as their debut. The farewell fugue of “you can laugh as if we’re still together” sounds sincere, and despite the mediocre album I suffered through up to this point, it harks back to what once made them great, and I felt a twinge of sadness that they may actually be leaving for good. The line from “Right Thoughts” that goes “how can we leave you to a Saturday night” takes on greater significance after hearing this track, probably being the only good line in that song, and then only in context, but still moving in that right. The rest of the tracks are pretty forgettable, while “Fresh Strawberries” and “Treason! Animals” are downright lousy, having the most bumbling of lyrics and underdeveloped arrangements. There are hints of a good dance-rock band here, and some reasonable glimmers of hope, but Kapranos doesn’t have such a way with words anymore, and being more self-aware, and more understanding of his own shortcomings, may be the only thing that saves this band.
Most of this album is pretty forgettable, regrettable, and passable. Franz Ferdinand probably aren’t winning any new fans with this album, feeling more like an excuse to get back out to play the festival circuit. It wouldn’t really do it much justice to say it sounds like a b-sides collection, because even their b-sides have a certain quirkiness to them that makes them endearing. These just sound undercooked, the quirk not entirely rising to the top enough to make it worth a repeat listen. It’s hard to say what FF are trying to prove anymore, as the dance-punk trend that The Rapture started and Panic! At The Disco ended being acutely exposed as hopelessly gimmicky, and all their post-punk peers having petered out into banal experimentation. Making a comeback just seems to miss the point, and this record does just that.
Recommended Tracks: Right Action, Evil Eye, Goodbye Lovers & Friends