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20 years on, Franz Ferdinand sounds just as good

Much ink has been spilt over the post-punk revival of the 2000s. For some, most of the decade’s output can be consigned to ‘indie landfill’, a pejorative term referring to the perceived abundance of generic guitar-based bands in the period. It is a debate which divides music fans, with many regarding the term excessively snobby. But either way, one band which manages to avoid such criticism is Franz Ferdinand.

Curiously named after the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, whose assassination precipitated World War One, the group’s debut record (also of the same name) was released 20 years ago this month. Following the success of their first single, ‘Darts of Pleasure’, and its even more popular follow-up ‘Take Me Out’, Franz Ferdinand hit the ground to much critical acclaim.

Musically, the eponymous debut is up there with Franz Ferdinand’s very best work

And though the band entered the fray amidst the successes of other indie-adjacent giants like The Strokes and The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand were somewhat of a game changer. Signed to Domino, they delivered the record company’s first number 1 album in 2005. As a recent podcast series which chronicled the band’s story demonstrated, it was a huge gamble for the British-based organisation. It catapulted the label from an independent fringe into the mainstream and helped lay the groundwork for the later success of the Arctic Monkeys, who signed to the label in the same year.

Musically, the eponymous debut is up there with Franz Ferdinand’s very best work. Coming in on the slightly short side at 38 minutes, it wastes no hooks, words, or filler. No surprise then that 5 of the record’s 11 tracks ended up being released as singles, highly meritable they are. ‘Take Me Out’, whilst remaining the record and indeed the band’s best-known song, is one of several eminently catchy singles. Building on the aperitifs of ‘Jacqueline’ and ‘Tell Her Tonight’, it marks out the band’s claims to indie legend. The ethos of singer Alex Kapranos – that he merely wanted to make music you could dance to – is fulfilled inside the first 10 minutes.

Franz Ferdinand have always remained innovative, pushing boundaries, and creating new ones

‘The Dark of the Matinee’, moodier and more brooding, demonstrated the band’s ability to do the simple and the more Daedelian (it may be the only song to include references to both “refectories” and Terry Wogan). But it is really the second half of the record in which Franz Ferdinand is cemented as an outstanding debut. Auf Achse (one of many allusions to German and Germany in the album, in part down to guitarist Nick McCarthy’s Munich origins) builds to a menacing crescendo, before the charming ‘Cheating on You’ takes centre stage. Without doubt my favourite two tracks on the album, ‘Darts of Pleasure’ and ‘Michael’, come soon after. “Words of love and words so leisured”, Kapranos sings, “Words are poisoned, darts of pleasure”. There is something deeply ironic about that phrase “leisured”, of which this brisk and fiery record is nothing of the like.

‘Michael’ meanwhile very much puts the ‘dance’ in ‘dance-rock’, written in dedication to a friend of the bandmates. It is fun, seductive, and just that little bit camp, one bound to set the house alight if it wasn’t already. Finishing off a record is no mean feat, but Kapranos and co have somehow always found it easy. Whether it’s the tender ‘Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow’ on 2018’s Always Ascending or the triumphant ‘Outsiders’ on You Could Have It So Much Better, the band always manage to leave listeners with no reservations. And ‘40’ is a fine example of that, its refrain of “La la la-la” a great curtain closer.

Since their 2004 debut, Franz Ferdinand have always remained innovative, pushing boundaries, and creating new ones. But for fans of the Glasgow outfit, this eponymous record will always be the one most sacred in their hearts.


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