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Franz Ferdinand’s Latest Nearly Disco

Observer Scene | Thursday, January 29, 2009

In 2004, Franz Ferdinand released their self-titled debut album to rapturous acclaim and high sales bolstered by the success of hit single “Take Me Out.” A follow-up came in late 2005 with “You Could Have It So Much Better,” which, though an excellent album, did not sell nearly as well.

Since then, the group has been operating under the radar, recording songs for movie soundtracks and producing music by other groups. So more than three years after their last release, where is the group at now? Can they maintain their standard of excellence?

Luckily for fans of the group, the answer is assuredly yes. “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” is the group’s most dance-centered effort, at times being only a degree or two removed from straight-up disco. Make no mistake, this is still Franz Ferdinand, only now with an even more pronounced affinity for dance music. The nods to forebears like the Kinks are mostly gone (except on album closer “Katherine Kiss Me”), replaced with a sleek sheen and dance floor-ready beats.

An early criticism of the album has been that its songs are too similar and sterile. This displays a fundamental misunderstanding of what “Tonight” is trying to accomplish. It’s a party album, so the music needs to keep people moving, hence the music will generally be up-tempo and very dance-oriented. Even within the bounds of dance music, the group experiment, from 8-minute long “Lucid Dreams” to the heavy keyboard use displayed on “Twilight Omens” and “Live Alone.” At 42 minutes, the record is a perfect length, leaving an impact without overstaying its welcome.

First single, “Ulysses,” kicks the album off in style, comparing that mythical hero to the party lifestyle: “You’re never going home.” It’s a strong way to begin, setting the tone from the outset. In fact, the overall “arc” of the album, if one chose to look at it that way, follows the experiences of a partier from the beginning of the night to the next morning. It’s not a strict concept album in the traditional sense, but the overriding theme of the record works well.

The midsection of “Tonight” contains the killer one-two punch of “What She Came For” and “Live Alone,” where the guitars hit their hardest on the former and keyboards do the same on the latter. As “What She Came For” with its shout-along chorus gives way to the dance-ready beat that introduce the next track, it becomes clear that the group will never completely cut ties with their guitar based post-punk roots, no matter how much their sound evolves.

The aforementioned “Lucid Dreams” is a standout song, and definitely the most ambitious the group has ever written. Heavily processed, with vocals low in the mix, the song segues into a nearly four and a half minute long electronic outro. This sounds like a terrible idea, but the group pulls it off well. They’ve always been masters of splicing two different song ideas together, even as early as “Take Me Out,” and it works again here.

Many people will be disappointed by this album simply because it’s not the same as their first. However, the experimentation on “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” shouldn’t deter fans of the group willing to hear growth. They’ve long threatened to go in a more dance-oriented direction, and if this effort is any indication, doing so was the correct choice.

After years out of the spotlight, the real deal finally returns to remind us what all the hype was for in the first place. In the world of music, going three for three in terms of producing good albums is remarkable, so here’s to hoping Franz Ferdinand can continue their streak in the future.

Contact Ryan Raffin at [email protected]