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Franz Ferdinand can’t get much ‘Better’

Observer Scene | Thursday, February 9, 2006

Franz Ferdinand – or the new Scottish gentry, as they call themselves – has released its latest album, “You Could Have It So Much Better.” Continuing in the musical vein of their self-titled debut album, the record proves to actually be that much better, as it stays true to their characteristic style.

The band, drawing its name from the archduke whose assassination spawned World War I, also displays some of this left-of-center, funky irreverence in its songs. This time around, “Better” proves no exception.

Originally meant to be the second in a series of titleless albums defined only by color – their first release was centered on brown, orange and cream, and “Better” uses green, red and black – the title of “You Could Have It So Much Better” came from what lead singer and guitarist Alex Kapranos feels is the band’s current philosophy.

“You can always have it better. If you try. That’s the attitude of the group at the moment. Never to feel satisfied, always to want to do something better,” Kapranos said in a recent FranzFerdinand.org article.

Franz Ferdinand consists of Kapranos, guitarist and keyboardist Nick McCarthy, bassist Robert Hardy and percussionist Paul Thomson. With all its members hailing from Glasgow, the band began its rise in Scotland’s largest city. With buzz slowly growing from positive word of mouth, Franz Ferdinand guided themselves up the ladder of the local underground music scene until record labels pounced upon them in 2003.

Since its inception and growth in the music business, the band has continued writing its own music and letting that personal writing and artistic touch be central parts of their musical and personal identity as a group.

“You’re letting such a fragile side of yourself out when you’re creating or writing music. To do that with people who are almost strangers would seem very strange to me,” Kapranos said. “I think that we’re very lucky that we’re quite close. To us, it’s almost like the band is the grandest possible adventure you can go on with your friends. It’s really really exciting.”

That unique songwriting effort shows through in the singular sound for which the band has become so famous. Oddly retro and yet thoroughly modern, Kapranos and his peers have created another album of solid guitar rock.

Each track is deceptively simple, with single heavy guitar riffs anchoring their respective tunes in different ways. Yet other tracks are less like rock and more like sixties mod ballads, not unlike their previous album’s “Jacqueline.” On “You Could Have It So Much Better,” tracks like “Fade Together” and “Walk Away” use the band’s distinct vocals and a more relaxed pace to both depart from and emphasize more fully their signature sound.

The tones of Kapranos’ lead vocals are firm, jaunty and different. The overall sound leaves the listener wondering how old-school punk, sixties mod rock and modern alternative music can possibly work together so seamlessly.

The album really shines on its first single, “Do You Want To,” which blends their undeniably sexual energy with stripped down lyrics and gorgeously simple guitar riffs. In its most basic essence, the song just makes you want to get up and dance.

The song’s video makes for fun viewing as it adds another typical Franz Ferdinand characteristic, having a fun sense of the goofy and irreverent about them. That sensibility is clearly heard with great results in “Do You Want To.”

“This Boy” is also a great track, with a distinct beat and a chorus whose melody varies distinctly from its verses in typical Franz fashion. The beat is emphasized with strong guitar chords and, again, Kapranos’ addictive and intriguing vocals.

The disc on the whole is arguably better than their 2004 self-titled debut, and it both heightens and deepens their style and skill for both the seasoned or fresh listener. Ultimately, for Franz Ferdinand the aim is to keep its public mesmerized and moving.

“I want to make music that will make the blood surge in your veins, music that will get people up and dance,” Kapranos said in a November article from the Aberdeen Express.