What with the Neanderthal drumming and the phasing effects, it could almost be the Sabs in their prime. Bloody hell, now there's a thought.
Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better.
Well, here it is. The new album. And what does Incendiary think about it? Well, you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't want to know, now would you? So I'll tell you what I think. I think it's fan-bloody-tastic, that's what I think. Oh yes. Right from the first wail of feedback on The Fallen, there is a feeling that this (now) undeniably great band has made a classic. Debut albums are all very well, I mean, everybody has a debut album in them somewhere. And yes, I concede that Franz's maiden effort was a pretty extraordinary debut for a whole host of reasons. But You Could Have It So Much Better... phew. I'd better sit down and compose myself.
The first thing that strikes you about the recording is the sheer energy Franz have. It's a relentless, restless, almost uncontrollable nervous energy and this energy is something that definitely informs the music on the album. The last thing anyone could accuse this band of doing is resting on their laurels. In fact there is almost a feeling that time itself could, at any minute, run out the door. Take the first five songs as an illustration. The great thing about this opening salvo is that - for this reviewer at any rate – any thought of lazy comparisons with the last LP are rendered obsolete, due mainly to the fact that you are hit by a whole host of lyrical observations, influences and developments in the band's sound that leave you almost dizzy. This material is a big step forward. Sure, you know its Franz, but there's none of that coy pussy-footing that we glimpsed on the debut.
Thus on The Fallen - a treatise on a friend's conversion to Christianity - Kapranos raucously spits forth a welter of sardonic observations, almost as a challenge. The rather obtuse lyrics certainly have a touch of the Lennons about them here. The music is nods very heavily towards some of the less mainstream mid-sixties groups too, bands like the Pretty Things or Jeff Beck's Yardbirds. And I for one find this no bad thing. In fact it's fabbo. The single Do You Want To follows quickly on; obviously built on the same chassis as Take Me Out but supercharged. I love its choppiness, its grittininess and its relentless thump. This is the record to dance in front of your mum's mirror to, no mistake. It's a great lyrical change from The Fallen too, doing that Franz thing of going for the emotional jugular; I'm goin' to make somebody love me/Well do ya, do ya wanna?... Indeed.
This Boy is a manic guitar scramble, redolent of Josef K's more up-beat moments, seemingly full of cutting observations about someone in particular. As usual there is a great deal of artistic sensibility at work alongside the obvious pop stuff. In particular I love the slightly muffled effect on the vocals that give real edge and tone to the ranting lyrics. A thumping, juddering end and we are into Walk Away, which starts like a tribute to Kraftwerk's The Model but soon smoothes out into the most reflective track so far. There's a real 60's pop feel, this lot have certainly been listening to The Supremes or The Angels here, it's classic boy-girl stuff.
No time to pause as we are whisked off into Evil & A Heathen, which is built on a fabulously thumping descending riff; what with the Neanderthal drumming and the phasing effects, it could almost be the Sabs in their prime. Bloody hell, now there's a thought.
What a start. See what I mean about having no time to draw breath?
Things get looser in structure after this burst, but by no means does the record flag. Far from it. You're the Reason I'm Leaving is fairly standard Franz Ferdinand; presenting a stripped down sound redolent of their first record, and complete with that glorious Franz key change in the bridge (the fare thee well bit kids). It's a cavalier confessional, and (as per usual) injected with great emotional intensity. Eleanor Put Your Boots On is another change, a lovely piano-led ballad, redolent of Vintage Violence/Paris 1919 John Cale for some reason. I love it when they do things like this, it just shows that there's a great deal more agility and flexibility to their song writing than some people have previously given them credit for. Well That Was Easy is, by contrast again, classic Franz; lots of angular shapes are thrown about, the sudden changes in tempo that immediately grabs the listener's attention, the reflective lament about breaking up, choc-full of personal observations. One thing of difference to their earlier efforts is the reliance on a looser song structure (or, maybe a more willing attitude to taking risks).
What You Meant is again very redolent of John Cale's more rocky 1970s releases, Nick McCarthy throws out a very ebullient series of garage riffs. Has he been listening to the Litter or something? It's a great sexy song, full of tactile strength and poise. I'm Your Villain starts with a great shuddering riff and proceeds to strut its stuff with abandon. It's Franz in a sweaty club, eyeing people up. All well and good, but then suddenly there's a guitar-led charge that is at total contrast with what went before. It's then back to loucheness for a wee while, before another change, this time a classic tail-out chorus. Fabulous, powerful and thrilling music.
You Could Have Had It So Much Better presents Alex in full rant mode. I like it when he rants. I wish he'd do it more. In some ways Mr Kapranos is Mr Mark E Smith's un-natural heir. There's a great thrash about for a few bars and then its all over, shame.
Fade Together is another quiet track, a piano tinkle over some after-hours drinks. It sounds like Nick singing, and he does it bloody well, I can well imagine the manic, rather glassy gleam in his eye as he croons this one. Maybe they should do a set of bar-lounge numbers with keyboards, they'd be damned good at it. Outsiders, for its part, seems to be a musical CV of the band, updated for our benefit. It's set over a very dancey, louche soundtrack, harking back to late 70s clubs; it certainly has a real Fear of Music/Remain in Light (or maybe ACR) feel to it. Whatever, it's a brilliant ending to a fabulous set.
So there it is. I love it. Far, far more diverse musically, harder edged at times, not really asking for anyone's blessing, whilst of course amplifying a hundred-fold what was good about them on their debut. And a much more satisfying listen. A fine body of work, gentlemen.
Words: Richard Foster.