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Promise keepers
Franz Ferdinand make good on the buzz

Iím thumbing through the March issue of Uncut, the comprehensive and entertaining British music monthly, when I hit the front of the review section and see a five-stars-out-of-five rating for the homonymous debut Franz Ferdinand (Domino USA/Epic). This was surprising, because the only Franz Ferdinand Iíd ever heard of was the Austrian archduke whose assassination launched World War I. Itís also odd because for much of the past 25 years, British and American releases by hot or major bands have been more or less simultaneous ó US labels donít like losing units to import stores or bootlegs.

But Franz Ferdinand is here now, and one wonders: is it really as great as Uncut would have it? The magazine stumbles into hyperbole less than most music mags, but it occasionally indulges, like a non-smoker who bums a cigarette every few months just for the nicotine hit. Well, yeah, Franz Ferdinand lives up to its advance hype, even if it has some of the tell-tale signs of one-hit wonder. Or rather, that all too common syndrome that leads to a short-term mass audience in England and a longer-term cult audience in the US. Itís got the careering, almost out-of-control audacity of disco-rockers Frankie Goes to Hollywoodís only memorable moment, "Two Tribes," but it rocks while being both sensitive and smart.

Like Frankie in reverse, Franz Ferdinand, who have booked a show at Avalon on June 16, are a rock-and-roll band with a disco spirit. Theirs may be the first bona fide metrosexual rock album made by a pure guitars/bass/drums quartet who have every chance of breaking through on radio and in clubland. Style counts. And though I am much too old to stay up late enough to indulge in any such activity myself, I can imagine that upwardly mobile urban hetero-gay-bi fashionistas would happily claim this band as their own. The relentless up-tempo drive of the music is devoid of solos in favor of constant, breathless danceability. Precedents vary between a less bombastic Queen and a Devo with bigger guitars. The album is big, brawny, yet tidy ó compulsively neat, even. The songs throb with imploring passion that would be ludicrous if it were wounded-sounding, like the Smiths. Instead, Franz Ferdinand are the anti-Smiths, and if love wonít call, sybaritic pleasure will do fine. Beginning to end, itís over the top, one drug-free amyl nitrate rush, from the inhale of "Jacqueline" (which states the bandís credo: "Itís always better on holiday") to the exhale of "40į" some 38 minutes later.

Gay? Some songs lean that way. "The Dark of the Matinee" reminds me of my first visit to London, when I walked into a revival cinema near Victoria Station expecting some solitude and a W.C. Fields movie on a sunny Sunday afternoon and instead found the theater overflowing with men obsessing over other men, cruising the very sticky carpeted aisles, the kind of scene Alex Kapranos or Nick McCarthy, the two singers, guitarists, and songwriters, describe so well in "Matinee": "I time every journey to bump into you accidentally/I charm you and tell you of all the boys I hate/Of all the girls I hate/All the words I hate/All the clothes I hate."

"Take Me Out" is a danceable rouser on which Franz sound like a British band (theyíre from Glasgow) trying to sound like a Scandinavian band trying to sound like a British band; the producer, in fact, is Swedish native Tore Johansson, whoís best known for producing hits for the Cardigans. You also hear bits of everything from the glam-bam of the New York Dolls to the Beatlesí "Ticket To Ride," if you can imagine the Beatles as John, Paul, Ringo, and Tim Curry. "Darts of Pleasure" oozes with seduction: "You are the villain who sends a line of dark fantastic passion." If sound were color, this would be fiery red; if this were a video, it would have to be produced by the Baz Luhrmann who gave us Moulin Rouge.

Notwithstanding that "Tell Her Tonight" mentions seducing girls, one can imagine a thousand sweaty men at Cherry Grove this summer dancing on the beach in tribal ecstasy and shouting along with the bridge: "I want you to take! me! out!" But the most overt indication of Franz Ferdinandís leanings is the jumping masterwork "Michael." My daughters look at me with a combination of pity and concern as I dance and shout along: "This is what I am, I am a man/Come and dance with me Michael."

In the end, the bandís sexual orientation doesnít matter. Franz Ferdinand may offer insider strokes to some, but its spirit of liberation is free to all. And so Iím overwhelmed. For a few minutes, my family, my living room, my utterly unmetrosexual life that makes Harvey Pekarís seem glamorous ó itís all disappearing into the oceanic roar of the last rock-and-roll disco on earth. Whoever, whatever: come and dance with me.

Franz Ferdinand appear on Wednesday June 16 at Avalon, 15 Lansdowne Street in Boston; call (617) 423-6398.

Issue Date: May 21 - 27, 2004
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