Posted by: ben | February 6, 2009

a short discussion: franz ferdinand

An occasional series in which we throw ideas back and forth. A bit like being in the pub but with more ascii.

Ben: Let me tell you why Franz Ferdinand are so brilliant.

It’s 2004. After a few years of being the ‘big thing’, The Libertines have finally imploded. A new crop of similar-ish bands with the same raw guitar sound started popping up – in that year came breakthrough albums for Razorlight, The Killers, Kasabian and Interpol. They all had slightly different sounds but they all had the same overriding serious ethos. It felt as if music was now exclusively for angry young men who didn’t really have a lot to be angry about aside from having the same stylists.

Then Franz Ferdinand came along.

Now, initially, you could’ve written them off in the same way. All of their promotional imagery was tied into classic Bauhaus aesthetics and their lead single heavily alluded to assassination and gun crime which could be interpreted as just another dark, edgy band whom would only be photographed in black and white. But the videos were fun, the posters showed the band stomping about like employees of the Ministry of Silly Walks, their songs talked about Terry Wogan and wanting to dance with boys.

They were a breath of fresh air. They were not the stuffy, po-faced, pseudo-intellectuals that occupied the NME at the time.

They were brilliant.

Dan: For me, Franz Ferdinand never did jump out as anything other than another band in the charts. At least, not to start with. Fair enough, their style was different, and they seemed to have a point to their music, unlike most of the other dross that fills that charts. But it was my brother who bought their eponymous debut, and I listened to its first play. Very little jumped out at me as unique, other than the singles, which were great energetic romps.

Take Me Out was great to hear, as it seemed to be the only song at the time that was glad it existed. While everything around it was lamenting the state of things and showing no initiative to improve things, here was a song blasting out of nearly every speaker you passed, screaming for my attention. I liked it, but I wasn’t tempted to investigate further yet. I had stopped listening to the radio by this point, instead finding my way through the mazes of musical splendour both by myself, and with your help. As such, I missed hearing their next three singles anywhere other than on the first listen to the album. It turned out that my favourite tracks from that introduction were the singles.

The rest of the tracks on the album seemed to be trying to show a softer, more artistic side. These songs weren’t bad, but nothing really caught my attention or stuck in my mind. I didn’t yearn to hear them again, but I enjoyed hearing them on the radio. For me at this point, they were no more than a ‘singles’ band.

Ben: Nonono. Their albums really work as albums. Listening to the debut, only Take Me Out sounds like it was crafted to be a single. When the album came out I couldn’t figure out which tracks would be released later as singles. I hoped that 40′ would get released and was chuffed as chips when Michael was given a proper release (oo-er). Going through the tracklisting, most songs from that album were released as singles in one form or another, either as EPs or overseas.

Now, album two was a little patchier but was still essentially joyous, poppy artrock. Everything was still smiles and playing guitar whilst pogoing. It felt a little hot on the heels of the first album and is, if anything, an exaggeration of their swaggering success up to that point. It still works well as an album and again it was difficult to predict which songs would be singles.

Dan: I can’t say, really. I didn’t listen to You Could Have It So Much Better until the first couple of singles had been released, and the third had been announced. The third single had L. Wells on it. From the second I heard that glorious track, I knew I had made a mistake. It was like my ears had suddenly been tuned to Franz Ferdinand’s raison d’être. I bought the EP (hated Jeremy Fraser and the remixes, by the way), and later bought the album. But I still found the best tracks to be the singles. And I wasn’t tainted, before you say anything, as I hadn’t really heard The Fallen or Walk Away yet. That said, it was harder to pick them out.

Nearly every track seemed to be stronger, and I enjoyed the album much more. After hearing them with new ears, I went back to the first album, and quickly realised I had been wrong to dismiss them. Jacqueline and in particular, Auf Achse leapt out as brilliant tracks. Possibly even better than the singles. But the other tracks still didn’t stick. While I enjoy them when the album is playing, I can’t remember anything about the other tracks like I can with most other albums.

Ben: I feel like that with Tonight: Franz Ferdinand at the moment. There’s two or three tracks I really, really like but a lot of it washes over me.

The new album is a bit worrying. It’s been in development too long; there’s pretty strong hints that the songs on the album initially were much more like the first two albums but have been re-edited, remixed, changed producer and re-edited again, over and over and over. There is a great early version of Lucid Dreams on the band’s website that sounds completely different to the album version, not only in lyrics and tempo but crucially in tempo. It sounds more fun, the sort of track you can imagine belting out at the top of your voice at 2am in some grungy little student club.

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is really bugging me right now. I want to like it more than I do. It’s a bit like Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief – I like it when I listen to it but don’t really have much inclination to listen to it much. The dub bonus disc Blood: Franz Ferdinand gives the impression that the band want to be accepted by the clubbing community – it’s an invitation to take their songs and remix them.

As if the album hadn’t been remixed enough already.

I’m secretly hoping that it’ll be released without the silly production at some point in the future, a bit like Let It Be… Naked. I don’t think it’s likely, though. I’m also hoping that the album is a grower – it feels like it should be, and I’m listening to it far more than I initially did.

Oh, and the advert the band did for Tennent’s lager which was shown in Scottish cinemas was amazing.

Dan: I’m finding it hard to get excited about Tonight as well. Ulysses and No You Girls are standouts, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them released as singles along with Bite Hard and, potentially, What She Came For. But the fourth one is a lot harder to guess, as there are a few others which could sell well. Overall, it’s just another Franz Ferdinand album: a few great tracks, but the rest are just good songs and seem transient. It’s a shame, because I can see they’re really trying to do something different, and while they occasionally succeed, it’s not often enough to make the jump.

The first twelve seconds of Send Him Away always reminds me of the start of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, which is a much better track. It’s not to the detriment of the track, as it still works quite well, and it is just different enough to get away with, but a band shouldn’t remind you of other artists so quickly or strongly. There are also moments when the dance style and production are reminiscent of the Scissor Sisters. It’s not the same music, but the feel of the album in places seems similar to that of Ta-Dah! (which is a surprisingly good pop-dance album, made more surprising by their awful self-titled debut). It’s particularly noticeable on Twilight Omens, with the opening electro-riff. Again, it’s not too similar too be damaging to the track or the band, but it’s just enough to be perceptible.

I do like Franz Ferdinand, but I just can’t see them ever being one of my favourite bands. Unless they do an entire album of L. Wells.

Recommended tracks:
Ben: This Fire (from Franz Ferdinand), Can’t Stop Feeling (from Tonight: Franz Ferdinand)
Dan:
L. Wells (from The Fallen EP, which is tricky to get nowadays. The video’s on YouTube, mind)

Want to dig further?
Official website: http://www.franzferdinand.co.uk/
Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Ferdinand_(band)

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