"We're the new Scottish gentry..."
Right from the start Franz Ferdinand's preening, witty, urbane art-pop was a delicious concoction, a fusion of arch humour and jagged, immediately addictive riffs.
The band's debut album was born from Glasgow's art school tradition, and went on to conquer the world before finally claiming the Mercury.
Since then, they've broadened, challenging themselves at every turn, adding layers of electronics and twisted their leopard-print songwriting into new shapes.
New album 'Always Ascending' is out today (February 9th) and it's the first Franz Ferdinand record without founding guitarist and co-songwriter Nick McCarthy.
With that in mind, Marianne Gallagher dipped into the band's archives...
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'Franz Ferdinand' (2004)
From the opener, 'Jacqueline’s juddering beginnings and sly references to cult Scottish poet Ivor Cutler, the eponymous debut ‘Franz Ferdinand’ announced itself like a kick in the teeth. “I’m so drunk I don’t mind if you kill me – but for chips and for freedom I could die” sings Kapranos in a later refrain, charged up on the electricity of the night, railing at nothing in particular.
This vein of nocturnal adrenaline runs like a constant through the whole of the record, climaxing in ‘Michael’, a revolutionary (at the time) song, soaked in sweaty, dance-floor homo-eroticism (“stubble on my sticky lips”) and provoking a much-needed conversation about sexy ‘straight’ indie boys occasionally getting off with one another.
Even in daytime, they’re running away from the light. ‘The Dark of the Matinee’ uses its cinematic backdrop to offset furtive fumbles, whilst the pensive, pent-up punk of ‘Cheating on You’ contrasts with the yearning ‘Come On Home’ and the staccato guitar duel of the closer, ‘40’’.
Let’s not forget ‘Take Me Out’, the juggernaut of a track that helped bring indie music to the masses in the early 00s. And what a single it was – forging in three unforgettable minutes the blueprint of their classic sound. Sharp and sleazy as a whip cracking the floor.
Book-smart and deadly, an angular call to arms. It was a debut that cast them as a band capable of both superlative pop and convincing introspection, catapulting them into the stratosphere both at home and in America. And not to mention, it won them the Mercury.
Modern, lithe, sexy and sharp. The sound of a brave new Scotland.
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'You Could Have It So Much Better' (2005)
Released in 2005, only a year after their debut, in the white-hot heat of their commercial success. A record that didn’t quite hang together, but was so rammed with clever, hook-laden bangers everyone was too busy dancing to notice.
‘The Fallen’ came over like an elegant lush swaggering down the street, full of champagne and bravado, slinging out biblical references to “fish and unleaven” – chronicling the unholy saints of night-life and the sanctity of self-destruction. For what really matters when “we’re all damned”?
It only goes on from there. They really took up the mantle of party band on this one. Show-stopping single ‘Do You Want To?’ took a self-deprecating pop at the dilettante art scene they’d grown from: “Here we are at the Transmission party, I love your friends, they’re all so arty…” as ‘Evil And a Heathen’ ripped through an nihilistic, intoxicating two-minute stomp.
You could have it so much better?
Well, maybe you could. It wasn’t as fully-realised as the debut, but there were beckonings of emotional concerns beyond the dance-floor, hinting at impending maturity. ‘Eleanor, Put Your Boots Back On’ – a swooning, bittersweet love song to Eleanor Freidberger – brought some much-needed intimacy. ‘Fade Together’ was straight-up gorgeous, Kapranos cooing “Once you’ve loved someone this much, you doubt it could fade/No matter how much you’d like it to”.
Seems like these party boys could connect with their hearts after all.
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Short, spiky pop songs suffused with sass and high-brow literary references. So far, so Franz.
'Ulysses', a power-pop ode to the famously hard-to-read James Joyce novel, got things off to a blinder, as the contagious ‘No You Girls’ followed with its snake-hipped, finger-wagging strut. But those grown-up worries were still lurking away in the shadows, an existential crisis never far from rearing its ugly head.
‘Lucid Dreams’ had the balls to pose the question directly – “is there a great truth or not?” You could argue that the album itself was something of an existential exercise for the band. They seemed trapped, somehow, by their reputation as a non-stop, hit-making machine – and the discord between the songs they were making, and the songs they seemingly wanted to make, resulted in an occasionally lacklustre offering.
‘Katherine Kiss Me’, a whispered lullaby of a love song, details a kiss and a jacket soaked in “sticky pools of cider blackberry”. Reworking the lyrics of its companion piece ‘No You Girls’ into something quite unrecognisable, described by the frontman as an honest retelling of what actually happened - “remembering the awkwardness and how it maybe wasn’t as satisfying as you’d hoped”.
It’s the most emotional pay-off of the record, and this artful sleight of hand is far closer to where you reckon the band would go if they could. It would be four years till we heard from them again.
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'Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action' (2013)
After what seemed an eternity, they returned in 2013 with this – unfurling a glittering roll-call of collaborations, featuring everyone from Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor to Bjorn Yttling and Todd Terje.
It’s certainly a jolt from the somnambulant 'Tonight'. Kicking off the album with ‘Right Action’ harkens back to their golden age, as they plunder the best of their back catalogue, reinstating the arch, haughty routine we fell for in the first place.
‘Love Illumination’ toes the tight-rope but stays on just the right side of sleazy – punctuated by curls of soul-sax, repetition driving its point home. ‘Bullet’ is taut and infectious with needling, stingy little riffs – like a souped-up version of ‘This Boy’. The shimmering Chic guitars and mid-paced funk of ‘Stand On The Horizon’ – “Oh, the North Sea sings – won’t you come to me baby?” – prove impossible to resist, paired with that elasticated bass line.
“Wouldn’t it be easy with something to believe in?” Kapranos asks on ‘Fresh Strawberries’, before answering his own question, “I believe there’s nothing to believe”.
Everything ripe must rot, and the fear of this inevitable decay – which must be kept at bay with distractions like dancing and love and the parlour games of ‘Brief Encounters’ – seems an ever-looming lyrical concern. Isn’t the running away just another part of going through the motions?
The title feels like a knowing reference to this. They’ve deliver what we want, they’ll stay on their best behaviour. Until that rebellious streak burbles through with surrealist aplomb, as it does on ‘Treason! Animals’ – a nutcase romp of hearing voices and something “really, really going wrong”. Life in the old dogs yet, it seems.
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Franz Ferdinand's new album 'Always Ascending' is out now.
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