Four years on, a fourth album from the Glaswegian four-piece. Good omens, right? ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ comes with promises of adventure, daring and defiance – and a renewed embrace of pop sensibilities. Here are some first impressions.
Don’t bore us, get to the chorus. Franz Ferdinand take 23 seconds to reach it here, letting us know they’re wholeheartedly back in the pop game. After the darker hues of 2009’s ‘Tonight’ it’s a sign they’ve rediscovered the bounce that made the debut such a blast, and ‘Right Action’ has synth horns, sly lyrics – “Sometimes wish you were here – weather permitting” – doo-doo-doos and even a shout of “Ho!” before the final furlong. We’re strapped in.
“What’s the colour of the next car?” Let’s come back to that one. ‘Evil Eye’ is an ultra-tight, Glaswegian take on Chic-like funk, as trim as a Savile Row suit with a lining of tinkery-plinkery synths. “Don’t believe in God,” sings Alex Kapranos, “But I believe in this shit,” and no one’s any the wiser.
After the familiar Ferdinand sproing of the opening pair, this one’s a little dirtier, all heads-down over fuzzy guitars keeping up with a barrelling beat. It’s hyperactive, with a tinpot pipe solo giving way to double-tracked, kind of Thin Lizzy soloing. Finally there’s a breather and everyone mucks in on four-part harmony – “We’re all looking for somebody to love“.
A fourth killer chorus on the trot, but not before an almost pastoral intro where Kapranos coos, “I am the proudest man ever born” over folky guitar. Soon we’re hopping along again – “Come to me/Oh won’t you come to me” goes the chorus – with rubbery bass and a beautifully balanced, Squeeze-like middle bit (technical term). The tone changes for the final minute, with the refrain “Oh the North Sea sings, ‘Won’t you come to me, baby’” soaring blissfully up and up. Think British Sea Power gone electropop.
This time “we are fresh strawberries/A fresh burst of red strawberries… We will soon be rotten/We will all be forgotten,” which is a comforting thought. Franz Ferdinand leaven all this doom with another earworm of a chorus, a kind of post-Beatles powerpop release of tension, but the sentiment’s just as dry: “Wouldn’t it be easy with something to believe in?” Nick McCarthy lets his guitar twang snakily around it.
The pace picks up for a ripe bit of breakneck 80s indie with a punishing strum of guitar matching the charging beats. If you’re of a mind, it sounds like Belle & Sebastian covering The Television Personalities – which has probably happened, come to think of it. Kapranos is under pressure – “Never get your bullet out of my head now, baby/Never get your bullet out of my mind/I get out of my head/Get out of my head now/I get out of my mind” – and you come out sweating.
But don’t look for respite here. Now there’s a pumping organ and pogoing guitar reuniting us with The Stranglers sometime around 1978. “Something has really really gone wrong,” but it feels pretty right, a sweet splice of 60s garage and 70s punk that somehow draws on Echo And The Bunnymen and REM too, and all in the space of four minutes. Kapranos could be in love with a “narcissist“, “analyst” or “nemesis“, but he knows “what the mirror has told me“. He needs someone with him.
This one’s a neat conceit – it starts with loops of cut-up organ and guitar played backwards before a spooky riff drives it on, but lyrically it stays in reverse, a relationship untold. ““I’ll give you each love letter back,” sings Kapranos, “I’ll laugh before every joke is told“. Soon cogs are unwound, cakes unbaked and, by the end, “We’ll part as happy strangers from a long friendship that grew from such a love”. There’s a sweet chorus once more, but the rest is unsettling and sparse.
Well, every album needs a swingers’ song – “We are brief encounters/We all lose our keys/We all choose our partners/We all choose our keys/Car keys“. The synth’s set to ‘organ’ again, with a Blur-ry fairground touch that ends up creepy, but otherwise this saunters along to a reggae lope, a nice blend of the carefree and sinister. And “rigid in the matrimonial superking bed” is a splendid image.
Scratchy guitar, flickers of synth, patted beats – this has a tribal, Adam & The Antsy feel, but soon it’s a farewell lament, a trad-FF stomp slowed to an end-of-the-night singalong. If you like your singsongs bitter, of course, with Kapranos sneering, “Don’t fake your memories/Don’t give me virtues that I never had“. The biggest kiss-off is, “Don’t play pop music/You know I hate pop music,” a great fat lie in this company of concise, catchy, sticky songs.