Our Album A&E series continues with a critical reappraisal of Franz Ferdinand's third record, 'Tonight: Franz Ferdinand'
It could have been the one that sounded like Girls Aloud. 'Take Me Out' meets 'Love Machine', a perfect collision of pop, art and rock 'n' roll. Virtually a year before the January 2009 release of ‘Tonight: Franz Ferdinand', Franz frontman Alex Kapranos told this reporter that he was so impressed by their work with Cheryl, Nadine and co, the Glasgow band would be working with the girl band's producers. Xenomania's Brian Higgins was duly dispatched to Franz' Govan rehearsal studio as the band sought to "push themselves" and their sound forward.
However, when the album finally appeared 12 months later, Higgins' name was missing from the credits. Amicably, but disappointingly, it was suggested Girls Aloud's guru and Franz couldn't agree on working hours, with the band preferring to call it a night around the same time Higgins was accustomed to turning up to work of a morning.
For some this was unforgivable. Paste Magazine were appalled by the record the band and replacement producer Dan Carey finally settled on, declaring that the "four dapper Scotsmen [sic] that constitute this group should be ashamed of their tuneless, thoughtless, meaningless new offering", while our sister title Uncut cheekily punned the band's second album title to suggest Franz' third effort was tainted with the "inescapable feeling… that we could have had it so much better".
Considering they jolted British rock ‘n’ roll back into life with their 2004 self titled debut, any Franz record which doesn't make an immediate impact is going to struggle by comparison, yet on reflection 'Tonight: Franz Ferdinand' has matured finely with time.
Dan Carey might not have given the band the giddy, disco thrills Xenomania would have supplied, but the Streathamite's stint behind the desk nurtured Kapranos and co's sense of the macabre – a human skeleton was even used for percussion during sessions – yielding a dark dancefloor romance (plus the producer's dub remix of the record released as 'Blood: Franz Ferdinand').
Avoiding cheap electro flourishes to get feet moving 'Tonight: Franz Ferdinand' boasts smooth, undulating golden pop which takes Bowie's 'Young Americans' as launching point, before taking a sinister twist through the sweaty bodies and sexual politics of clubland.
'Ulysses' creeps forth with a pulsing beat that's almost explicit, setting the tone for Kapranos' dancefloor voyeur, while 'Turn It On' and 'Bite Hard' are a heady friendly mix of smart moves, smooth vocals and chiming choruses powered by Bob Hardy's heartbeat bass. 'What She Came For' switches the gender roles, with its female character's hunt for action ending in a punk storm, while 'Live Alone' glides through the night with a Blondie-like urgency (so apparent is New York's inspiration on the song, it's no wonder LCD Soundsystem picked it for a recent cover).
'Lucid Dreams' is an epic blur that speeds through the neon-lit night in a scoundscape of bumping basses, raw guitars and lightning strike synths, before 'Katherine Kiss Me' takes a step back from the darkness, swapping the album's debauched tone for a bleary eyed, morning after acoustic reflection.
What is most striking about 'Tonight: Franz Ferdinand' though, is that with a bit of distance and time to settle it's really grown into a complete, compelling album. Propelled by both its own sense of hedonism and Kapranos' ability to take himself out of the moment and leer back in, this record dives head first into the night, embracing a full spectrum from Bacchanalian revelry and sexual stand-offs to guilt and revenge with a no-holding-back, Gonzo-like commitment.
Franz Ferdinand were pleading for years for someone to "take me out". Well, with 'Tonight: Franz Ferdinand' they returned the favour, and what a wild ride on the dark side it proved.
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