File under ‘Didn’t see this one coming’. I’ve always liked Franz Ferdinand, but never really loved them. ‘Take Me Out’ was a fantastic single and had me hooked like so many, but the album didn’t stick as much as I’d expected. ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’ appeared to tinker discreetly with the same format, before ‘Tonight’ offered some potentially interesting new approaches. However, none of those albums had been firm favourites and it was rare that I found myself actively reaching for them. With their fourth album, things couldn’t be much more different. This is their masterwork: a record with no filler, tight playing and an abundance of melody. I’ve not got anywhere close to tiring of it yet and I have played it a lot.
What makes it so good? ‘Right Action’ is a three minute primer in why anyone cared about Franz in the first place, and then they’re off. I’m not the only one to spot a hint of Snoop Dogg’s ‘What’s My Name?’ in ‘Evil Eye’ and I defy you to stop singing ‘Snoop Doggy Dog’ over the post-chorus riff once you’ve tried it. Go on – catch me up. The song also possesses some fabulous callbacks off various lines, chief amongst them “it’s red, you bastard.” Add in the weird bursts of a children’s choir and it’s a very odd, very compelling, very danceable belter.
There’s no time for contemplating the ripe form of this record though, as ‘Love Illumination’, ‘Stand On The Horizon’ and ‘Fresh Strawberries’ come hot on the openers’ heels, sustaining the pace and quality. Lyrically, they are on familiar ground and, in a way, this album sounds just like an idealised version of Franz Ferdinand. Just as we all have those go to riffs, refrains or fills filed away in our musical archives that represent our favourite acts, if you took everything you’ve ever thought this band might be capable of and poured it into a mould, this is the record that would fall out. And it does all of this without being annoying. The relentless jangle and shoulder-strutting rhythms should come perilously close to grating, but this is so well executed, so well rendered that it’s simply rather easy to love. At only thirty-five minutes in length, it feels like a band not simply reverting to type, as has been suggested, but actually realising their true potential with an abundance of entirely deserved confidence. However, the closer ‘Goodbye Lovers And Friends’ features a character speaking viciously from beyond the grave – whilst doing an uncanny Dogs Die In Hot Cars impression at one point* – and concludes with the lyric ‘”when they lie and say this is not the end, you can laugh as if we’re still together. But this really is the end.” This has, as you will imagine, been interpreted as a final sign off from a band who took plenty of time getting to the point where they could put this record together. If this “really is the end” then it’s a damn fine way to bow out.
*Which I realise is, of course, by extension, an XTC impression, but it is, nevertheless, uncanny.