Tonight

They say good things come to those who wait. Well, at least Guinness say that. If only the same were true in music. Long gaps between albums rarely tend to signify a road to Damascus-style reinvention of a band into anything greater than they once were. Franz Ferdinand’s latest album may not have taken quite as long as Guns N’ Roses’ (or should that just be Rose’s) Chinese Democracy, but a four year break between albums is still a damn long time in rock music.

The album kicks off with a hat-trick of tracks that reinforces the view that Franz remain kings of what the Student Union’s Electric City would deem “danceable indie”. Nevertheless ‘Ulysses’, track one and the first official single to be released from the album has been met with mixed reviews. The track is atypical for a Franz single but is certainly a grower. The track perplexes the listener on first listen due to its relatively complex structure and underwhelming instrumentation and lyrics. One would imagine Franz planned to replace the “la la”-ling of the chorus with actual words, only for the band to forget to write them at the 11th hour.

The heavy new sound that haunts the majority of the album is predominantly driven by Russian Polyvox synthesizers. Whilst these are hardly novel instruments (they have been around for the best part of three decades), they partly succeed in giving a darker, more aggressive twist to Franz’s generally care-free lyrics. Don’t for one minute imagine that singer Alex Kapranos has replicated the heavy electronic experimentation made famous in David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy. Instead, Kapranos’ idolisation of Bowie rarely steps any further than the sexual ambiguity that grace his lyrics; “Mmmmm/ I wonder/ How the boy feels…/ ‘Cause I never wonder how the girl feels”.

Nevertheless, ‘No You Girls’ is much more typical of the output we have come to expect from Franz Ferdinand; a catchy chorus, a danceable four-to-the-floor beat, a melodic story filled with double entendre and some of the best vocals on the album. This song would have settled much easier on Franz’s second album, matching the simplicity and silliness of songs such as ‘Do You Want To’ rather than the sinister synthy sound commonplace on most of this album. All the same, a great misplaced song remains exactly that – great.

So far so good. By the time you reach track four a number of tracks will appear that may fundamentally challenge your belief in Franz’ god-like status (if, indeed you ever held such a view). The listener is transported to the realm of 1970s folk rock. Here Franz find themselves completely out of their depth. The instrumentation may be reminiscent of Fairport Convention, but the band fail to develop a catchy melody to hold the song together. An attempt to throw a very simple synthesiser line into the mix towards the end sounds like the kind of fill of a desperate teenage band would pull on a demo tape if they found themselves in lieu of a lead guitarist. Not a pleasant sound.

Franz’s misadventures continue throughout the album. At least three of the tracks are so poorly written that the album drags unless you skip them, namely ‘Twilight Omens’, ‘Live Alone’ and ‘Dream Again’. The latter is unbelievably tedious; threatening to send the listener to sleep before the album finishes. Thankfully, unlike Chinese Democracy, all tracks are kept below the 4 minute mark. All tracks, that is, except the remix of ‘Lucid Dreams’. Yes, you heard me right. Remix. Obviously the single-version which has been available on iTunes since August last year is far too old for this album. Solution? Produce an 8-minute long acid remix of the song to placate the fans. Both versions are worthy however, and Franz’s bravery at attempting such an out-of-character turn can only be applauded.

Franz’s new sound is most confidently displayed on ‘Can’t Stop Feeling’. African drums and heavy synths lay down a minor-key riff that literally shakes the firmament. The band decides not to mess about with a complicated structure, instead relying on a simple Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge structure. As a consequence the track is immediately pleasurable from the ears down to your tapping toes.

It is clear that Franz Ferdinand have attempted to reinvent themselves, whist still attempting to create danceable rock. Whether the Archdukes of Indie Rock have reaffirmed their place at the head of such a table is questionable. In the time it has taken Alex Kapranos and the rest of the band to muddle twelve tracks together we have seen the rise of acts such as the Arctic Monkeys, copious releases by the Kaisers and clubs everywhere filled with dancehall-orientated indie released by bands like The Fratellis or The Automatic.

Franz’s willingness to experiment with their sound, drawing from various genres both past and present should have helped the new album catapult themselves back to the top. In reality, mediocre songwriting backed up a baffling array of musical ideas spread across the playlist confuse what could have been a truly brilliant album. Franz Ferdinand have not yet completely abandoned the style of music that made them famous or confidently adopted a synthesiser-led approach. The middle-ground they have adopted on this album is neither here nor there.

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