Thursday, February 05, 2009

Franz Ferdinand, Tonight

Mark Reed on the return of Kapranos & co after almost four years.

We experience music differently these days. Songs are first heard coming from speakers, tinny ones designed not to reproduce the full spectrum dominance of sound, but an approximatation, an imitation of sound, tiny white ear buds of computers.

After weeks of hearing Ulysses, the albums premiere single and starting track, from televisions and sandwich shop radios, it made a pleasant surprise to be struck with the warm and rich sound of the production. Unlike many people, Franz Ferdinand seem to value sonic clarity over volume dominance. And whilst Tonight is loud, it's only loud in the right places.

Ulyssess
, like most of the rest of album, is dripping in melodies, choruses, effective and interesting rhythms (that never bore), and the opening triumvate (including Turn It On and No You Girls), may make you think that the band have evolved barely since 2004, the next one, Send Him Away shifts gears with a semi-reggae set of drum rolls, a high end bass, and angular guitar that sounds like a somewhat angry, stuttering White Man In Hammersmith Palais.

Add to this the delibrately dated – and one would therefire say classic, timeless keyboard sounds reminiscent of late era Abba in Twilight Omens, and you have something that sounds very much like Franz Ferdinand, Jim, but not as you know it. Three and a half years is a long time in pop music. In three and a half years, The Beatles went from Love Me Do to Marharashi's Chanting Family (or whatever it was called), and Radiohead went from Pablo Honey to OK Computer.

Franz haven't quite moved that far, but it's definitely a step beyond what they did before, an evolution, still memorable at the first listen (What She Came For is unforgettable), shifting tempos and styles betyween songs and inside songs in a way that is both fluid, natural, and surprising : Live Alone sounds like Blondie, Kraftwerk, Human League, whilst also sounding very 2009. The sound is classic, timely yet timeless, lyrically it is minimal, vague, and economical: about nothing, something, and anything at the same time. In some ways, the words allow you to project onto the songs whatever you want them to mean: but also quite clear. That's the beauty of language, and Franz are literate and have the benefit of historical awareness, from their name down.

Lucid Dreams
is probably the album stand out, as it progresses as a strong, weighty track, before moving to the left with an instrumental jam reminiscent of Electronic's latter-period that is like a modern day version of the type of acid/techno/house buildups and breakdowns, albeit played on 'traditional instruments'. With this as the final full on band song, the closing two songs - Dream Again and Katherine Kiss Me, are understated, gentle explorations that hint at the type of future that Franz Ferdinand could have, plucking out heartfelt moments with power.

The Special Edition contains 40 minutes of remixes: unlike the usual modern remix, which is someone elses song with a clumsy fragment of the original shoe-horned in, these are worthy reinventions you will be returning to many times. That said, Tonight is no radical reinvention nor a tired retread of the past, but the next step on an interesting journey. For now, and maybe forever, Franz Ferdinand will never seemingly produce an album that rips away the artifice of civilisation, and repression, to expose the raw heart and hurt of emotion.. but they are getting there and the point of the journey is not to arrive, after all.

2 comments:

Stan Moss said...

Yeah, why is it that bands take forver to make an album nowadays?
Gaps of three or even four years have become the norm.

In the 70s it wasn't rare for bands to release two albums a year and do a world tour in the middle. Look at Sabbath or Zeppelin. In the 80s The Smiths knocked up 4 albums in 4 years and a swirl of singles. Even in the 90s, Blur where churning out one album after the other, and so were others.

What happened?

Planet Me said...

In simple terms, it's all about market saturation - in the 70's bands were looked at as "we dont know how long they're going to last" so they worked as hard as they could because fame could fade quickly, now music is seen as a 30 year plan...