27 January 2009

Franz Ferdinand: "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand"

Was the three-year wait for a new Franz album worth it? Hell yeah. Will the purists be mad? Hell yeah.

With cover art depicting a crime scene, Franz Ferdinand releases what I consider to be their best effort yet, “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand.” These boys from Glasgow infused their third album with electronic elements, giving them a “dance-rock” feel. Included on the album is “Lucid Dream,” previously an iTunes release (19 August 2008), though the band said that it was not a single. In the US and Canada, the iTunes download of “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” has both a new album and the previous released versions. Originally, the track was a bit shy of four minutes, concentrating on typical Franz guitar arrangements. The album version, however, is a bit shy of eight minutes, with similar guitar playing, infused with electronic elements. Actually, the last three minutes of the song could easily be confused for Depeche Mode circa “Music for the Masses.”

The album opens with the lead single, “Ulysses” (2 December 2008 in digital format, 19 January 2009 in physical disc), a parody of the literary figure. Ulysses, the Roman name of the Greek Odysseus, must travel home after the Trojan War and is confronted with one obstacle after another, including the lotus plant, which makes you high. Ulysses resists the temptation of getting high and forces his crew to continue their journey home. But not Franz’s Ulysses: “Come on Lexxo, what you got next - oh, walking twenty five miles – oh? Well I’m bored, I’m bored, come on let’s get high… I’ve found a new way.” Their genre bending of infusing electronic elements is paralleled with their “bending” the original Ulysses.

In the new wave sounding “Live Alone,” they sing, “I want to live alone because the greatest love is always ruined by the bickering.” It is not that Franz is only incorporating the sonic elements of post-punk synthpop bands, like Depeche Mode or Bronski Beat, but also the lyrical themes. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics reminiscent of these bands permeate the album, with topics about the futility of love, addiction to pain (in “Can’t Stop Feeling,” again much like Depeche Mode, remember pain in “Strange Love?”), and the indifference in love affairs (in “Turn It On”).

For the purists, the album closes with “Katherine Kiss Me” – an acoustic song, lacking any techno element. “Katherine kiss me, slippy little lips will split me, split me where your eye won’t hit me.” Opening with cute alliteration, the song drags the listener in with subtlety. And though sonically it is the antithesis to the rest of the album, lyrically it continues the same kinds of threads – “Yes, I love you, I mean… I…. I mean I need to love…”

This album is a step in a different direction for Franz Ferdinand, away from a sound that they made popular, but who likes repetition other than in Chinese fire drills or the comfort zones of purists? Franz Ferdinand’s expansion of musical elements, themes, and production techniques are a welcomed evolution, that avoids another static, run of the mill third album that is a mere rehash of what came before it.

This is solid music, and Franz Ferdinand puts out an album that should vie for the best album of the year.

Track Listing
1. Ulysses
2. Turn It On
3. No You Girls
4. Send Him Away
5. Twilight Omens
6. Bite Hard
7. What She Came For
8. Live Alone
9. Can’t Stop Feeling
10. Lucid Dreams
11. Dream Again
12. Katehrine Kiss Me

iTunes bonus Tracks (North America)
13. Lucid Dreams (pre-album version)
14. Ulysses (The Disco Bloodbath Effect)
15. “Feeling Kind of Anxious”