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Fortunate sons
The simple joys of being this yearís Franz Ferdinand
Related Links

Franz Ferdinand's official Web site

Wayne Robins reviews their debut album, Franz Ferdinand.

Carly Carioli downloads Franz Ferdinand's "Do You Want To"

Franz Ferdinand are this yearís Franz Ferdinand. Let me explain: a hoary music-business maxim holds that an artistís second record will disappoint. Itís called the Sophomore Slump. And itís bullshit. Sure, bands often get full of themselves and really suck with the follow-up to a big album, and that doesnít even count the bands whoíve had exactly one good idea in their careers. No, itís bullshit because itís meaningless to anyone who buys music to enjoy it. But itís the sort of idea thatís venerated, like music-chart positions and weekend box-office grosses, by all the marketing-meeting cant that passes for criticism these days ó "The Bravery are this yearís the Killers!" Hence, much of the focus on You Could Have It So Much Better . . . With Franz Ferdinand (Epic) will be on how Franz Ferdinand have followed up last yearís breakout debut.

Well, theyíve followed up Franz Ferdinand (Epic) by realizing that they were very, very lucky the first time around, so why not savor their good fortune? This became clear when I dropped in on the New York set of their music video for the new discís first single, "Do You Want To?" Videos, like sausage and Pam Andersonís breasts, are better enjoyed with no knowledge of how they were made. The shoots are even more chaotic and absurd than the quick-cut fantasies they produce, and most artists are shuttled through them like cattle nosing toward the abattoir.

The funny thing was how much Alex Kapranos and his identically dressed mates made a point of enjoying themselves amid the ridiculousness. (How ridiculous? The band was vaulted from a huge bed into a phalanx of professionally weird-looking extras and spindly models in granny panties, take after take, for an hour and a half. And the champagne in their glasses was diet ginger ale.) If youíre looking for a metaphor here ó and I wasnít at the time, since I was there only to get a few quotes from Alex about his new CD and sartorial flair for Esquire ó it doesnít take too much thought to see how that attitude extended to the whole enterprise of the feared sophomore album. Take your job, but not yourself, very seriously; expectations and everything else are bullshit.

This resonates in the confidence of You Could Have It So Much Better . . . With Franz Ferdinand. The band still sound like a band signed to Domino (the cool-as-fuck British label known for Clinic, Clearlake, and Four Tet), but one bent on inviting more people to the party. The same angular guitars that drove "Take Me Out" into the squinting gaze of the mainstream ó hell, the song is available sung by children on Kidz Bop 8 ó are in abundance, but the grooves are deeper and danceable. For every purely punchy song like the de facto title track, "You Could Have It So Much Better," thereís one that marries post-punk spikiness with the swing of a seductively open hi-hat. Itís both arty and utilitarian, like the Michael Graves appliances at Target.

" ĎOutsideí is very much like a dance song, the structures and dynamics of dance music," Kapranos said once he got a break from the video, a couple hours after it had been scheduled. "But itís still very much a live band as well. All that great dance music is sequenced, but we wanted to have that pull and sway that you get when you play off each other. That was quite important to us when we were recording, to make sure that it was the sound of four people playing in a room together that we got onto the record."

Which is brilliant, except that thereís no conclusive evidence that people still dance to rock bands. Sure, it happens in some hipster conclaves, but after the í90s irony pandemic, no oneís sure whether itís actual dancing or a series of spastic poses. Mostly dancing is still relegated to clubs that pound out bowel-loosening, four-on-four bass beats. So we can be pretty certain that no oneís asked for this from Franz Ferdinand. The idea seems to have come from what Kapranos expresses as "We wanted to go in and make sure we still sounded like us but do something new. Thereís no point in repeating yourselves."

So the single is the overtly, obnoxiously catchy "Do You Want To?" "This Boy," which follows, might well have been the easier choice, since it tracks more closely to "Take Me Out." Maybe too the morally ambiguous "The Fallen." But this single, the song meant to win over radio programmers who still arenít sure how they let these Scottish guys run all over their play lists to begin with, is different. Itís drily funky and cheeky as all hell, with a new-wavy sing-along hook and lyrics built on pick-up banalities and arrogant mania: "When I woke up tonight, I said ĎIím going to make somebody love me . . . And now I know, now I know, now I know/I know that itís you/Youíre lucky, lucky! Youíre so lucky!" I may never watch Taradise the same way again.

Fuck, though. Itís all so smart. The dreamy "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" is affecting poetry about a Brooklyn-to-Scotland romance borne aloft on the Gulf Stream; the equally sensitive "Walk Away" rubs astringent on a relationship until the fade-out echoes with the mysteriously cracked "Stalin smiles and Hitler bows/Winston Churchill claps Mao Zedong on the back." Or take "Youíre the Reason Iím Leaving." You can project your most recent romantic argument onto a line like "I have no idea if in four years Iíll be hanging from a beam." Hereís Kapranosís explanation: "The last verse of that song is about the time I was driving to a friend of mineís funeral. I was driving in the car, and it was under this fantastically optimistic springtime sun sometime in late March a few years ago. I was feeling overwhelmingly, obviously horrible, horrible that this guy died, and at the same time, the weather wasnít matching up. And then a song came on the radio which I didnít like, one of those slightly saccharine romantic songs. The sentiment of the song really struck me. As I was driving, I began cursing this dead guy whose funeral I was going to, like, ĎYou sod! Iím here crying to this song I donít like because Iím going to your funeral!í And thatís an example of when you have all those contrasting emotions pulling you in so many different directions."

Find something else that complex from a band whoíve been on a Now Thatís What I Call Music comp. But then, they never did sound like a band who shouldíve gotten as big as they did. And now, with the challenging but altogether likable and accessible You Could Have It So Much Better . . . With Franz Ferdinand, they again donít sound like one of those bands. Who knows whether this CD will succeed on the scale of the first one, but the mere prospect of Franz Ferdinandís again landing on pop radio may be the seasonís best reason to poke your head out of your narrow-cast prairie-dog mound. Thatís why Franz Ferdinand is this yearís Franz Ferdinand.

"The only way you can ever keep your cool is by not trying to be cool," Kapranos said toward the end of our short interview. "Abandon all sense of self-consciousness ó do it and enjoy it."

Franz Ferdinand + Sons and Daughters + Cut Copy | Orpheum Theatre, 1 Hamilton Place, Boston | October 15 | 617.288.6000.

Issue Date: September 30 - October 6, 2005
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