Zachary Cole Smith has overcome a multitude of problems to make this intensely powerful album
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
“Music of the night: for the dancefloor, flirtation, for your desolate heart-stop, for losing it and loving it, for the chemical surge in your bloodstream… for that lonely hour rocking yourself, waiting for dawn and it all to be even again”.
It’s been whispered in hushed tones that ‘Tonight…’ – three years, several producers and one grimy Glaswegian recording space in the making – is loosely a concept album based around an epic night out. So what does the third coming of Franz bring us? Well, for a night out, it offers us a pretty inauspicious start.Current single ‘Ulysses’ is, sad to say, more music to run a bath to than anything else. That start – it’s just so fucking slow. Even for their horizontally laid-back strut it’s slow. It drags itself into earshot on broken-limbed drums while Alex himself whispers “I’m bored”.
Drop it into the club mix after a big one and despite the eventual huge chords and valiant “la-la-la”s, you can see the lifeblood drained mercilessly out of the dancefloor’s and pumped into a slosh bucket in the bogs while hundreds of attention-mugged energy addicts slope off to make out. At least ‘Take Me Out’ got you hooked on its speed before it dropped to the pedestrian funk of the second half. ‘Ulysses’ cries out with lustful anguish to be untied from the mast and ruthlessly ravaged by some remix sirens and restored to the speed it deserves.
So it’s kind of fortunate that they put the song up on beatport.com for you to do exactly that. Ramp up the RPM, people. However, ‘Tonight…’’s opener – and the throwaway Franz-by-numbers track that excuses itself straight afterwards (‘Turn It On’) aside – this is an exceptional record. It’s the sound of four reunited brains of considerable expertise locked into the permanent gloom of a Victorian town hall and forced to stare at the hypnotic psychedelic swirls of the room’s carpet until their disparate ideas gravitate into something cohesive.
Of pitch-black recording sessions, human bone percussion and microphones hanging from the ceiling. With Girls Aloud’s Xenomania producer Brian Higgins trialled and found to be an error, Franz thumbed through the producer-du-jour handbook, alighting on Dan Carey. The man who’s had us shaking a fist and making love to DFA in previous years knows a thing or two about netting the ideas of our more inventive songwriters and packaging them as perfect night-out fodder and the fruits of this partnership is no exception.
Take ‘Send Him Away’, which rips a galloping spacey prog riff wholesale from somewhere we just can’t quite place (it’s on the porch of plagiarist proximity to Black Lace’s ‘Superman’ but it’s not that – answers on a postcard please, seriously) before unfolding into a handclapped zig-zag of danceable fun. ‘Bite Hard’, meanwhile, might start like Elvis Costello singing at a wake but soon enough rips into classic Franz bent to the beat of the blues and sounds at one point like Spacehog (remember them?). ‘Twilight Omens’ is another otherworldly pop shuffle with an almost porno keyboard riff midway that’s brought down only by its brevity.
Continuing the bus-to-town section, ‘Live Alone’ will have you in your chair watching your two feet doing syncopated blastbeats as if suddenly possessed by the ghost of Tony Williams; God knows what effect it will have when it makes its way to the clubs. Its bedrock is the funky elasticity of The Virgins on tranqs but piled atop are synths that wobble from epic ’70s sci-fi to bedroom digitalism. Lie back and listen and watch the TOTP2-style psychedlic light filters drip across the inside of your eyelids. They have to allow this its own release.
During what must be the Club Suite, ‘Tonight…’ parachutes Franz into completely new genre territory. ‘Can’t Stop Feeling’ opens with their favourite new synth sound (the electronic farting so prominent on ‘Ulysses’) and comes across more like a tribal dance record, an Aztec party track for NYE 2020. Then there’s the near-eight-minute epic ‘Lucid Dreams’. Wake up five minutes in to this and you’d swear you were curled up by Justice’s feet as they splice together bowel-bothering synths and Terminator 2 steely construction noises to a packed Fabric. Except done live. It’s one we’d really like to see DJs muster the cojones to play out. Obligatory ballad ‘Katherine Kiss Me’ sees sunrise roll round at the end of the album, but we’d advise not getting too jazzed up previously so you can pass out before this.
This might not be the ‘music of the night’ that rotund talent show type Lloyd Webber and his phantoms had in mind, but based on the majority of this album Messrs Kapranos, Hardy, McCarthy and Thomson can definitely take us out tonight.
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