opinion by BENJI TAYLOR
The noughties were the years of the great British indie debut: The Libertines, Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys – and Franz Ferdinand. Franz led the vanguard of the mid-noughties post-punk indie titans that once again forced the world to view Britain as a melting-pot for anthemic and literary rock; a band that could couple mischievous creative sensibility and indie-pop pizazz with ease. They walked away with the well-deserved 2004 Mercury Award; the panel of musicians, journalists and music execs prescient enough to realise that this self-titled debut would later be regarded as one of the defining albums of a generation.
Their last offering, 2009’s Dan Carey produced Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, was woefully underrated, something that probably contributed to the four years of radio silence that followed it. Consequently, it’s led Alex Kapranos and co to tone down the experimental keyboard-driven sheen of that album in favour of the stylish spiky guitars that littered their first. Basically, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is their debut re-imagined for the next decade – gushing with characteristic lurching tempo changes, scream-along choruses and glossy hooks. It’s underpinned by Kapranos’s hyper-intelligent approach to song-writing: clever analogies, hilarious observations and wry humour.
The opener is quintessential Franz – a mash-up of jagged guitar riffs weaving through an emphatic rhythm section; all supported by a seductive groove and Kapranos’s cynical lyricism. It’s a defiant icebreaker that conveys a stark message – this is Franz back doing what they do best, with the experimental leanings of Tonight relegated to memories as hazy as the night-out that their previous album chronicled.
Second track “Evil Eye” is Franz’s explosive dark take on disco, propelled by funk fuelled guitar licks, and not a million miles removed from album number two’s lead single ‘Do You Want To’. ‘Love Illumination’ adds a big band horn section to the traditional Franz template, and showcases the band’s mastery of walking the tightrope between pop and rock.
Lyrically and thematically the album takes the best elements of all three previous albums and merges them. Kapranos’s sharp inspired imagery and lyrical witticisms have never been better, whether he’s rhyming “narcissist” with “pharmacist”, or using fresh strawberries as a metaphor for the precariousness of youth. These tracks are populated by wife-swapping misfits (“Brief Encounters”), pill-guzzling narcissists (“Treason! Animals“) and deceased hard-talking sociopaths (“Goodbye Lovers and Friends”), and Kapranos is not beyond poking fun at his band (ironically intoning “Don’t play pop music, no! You know I hate pop music…” on the final track).
Dig beneath the surface and you’ll hear a cheeky confession in many of the lyrics, whether it’s acknowledging their magpie-like affinity for rechanneling a vast collection of disparate influences (“Please believe everybody steals” sings Kapranos on ‘Fresh Strawberries’), or their desire for forgiveness at returning after such a prolonged absence with a recast take on a style they perfected on their debut (“This time, same as before, I’ll love you forever…” he sings on the opening track).
Album highlight “The Universe Expanded” is the most poignant track that Franz have ever written. It’s a rare moment displaying the Franz lead singer at his least cynical and jaded – showing that at heart he’s just as big a softie as the rest of us. Simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking, he re-imagines a relationship playing out in reverse, set against the backdrop of a splintering universe, as everyday minutiae take on cosmic importance – unbaking a cake, corking a newly filled wine bottle, laughing before the punchline of every joke. It starts slowly with Kapranos’ contemplative vocal riding alongside a warped synth-line, before the tempo pitches forwards for the chorus: “I’ll meet you coming backwards, I’ll meet you coming back/ When the universe has expanded, Time will contract…” It’s tough not to share the protagonist’s mixed feelings of anguish and happiness as he wistfully states that, though they’ll lose each other, they won’t mind “this time” – the implication being that a tragedy has enveloped the couple in their future.
This is a staggering return to form for the Glaswegian quartet, the sound of Franz Ferdinand coming home after a four year long absence – with the right thoughts, the right words, and the right album. And when it sounds as good as this then what else is there to say – except all is forgiven, we’ll love you forever, ya bastards. [B+]