Tag Archives: alex kapranos

Another by-product of my reading Nick Kent’s 1970s memoir, Apathy For The Devil, was my being nudged into digging out Roxy Music‘s Country Life album, which Kent really digs. Bryan Ferry was, in Kent’s eyes, a bit of a hero of social mobility (whereas Kent was pretty much its anti-hero). More importantly, Country Life is—I now realise—a truly influential album in the progression of British art rock and glam. You can here those music-hall and oompah flourishes weaving their way into Parklife-era Blur; similarly, Ferry’s voice must have been a major reference point for Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos.

Country Life opens with “The Thrill Of It All”, an unexpectedly rousing, gutsy song from the ordinarily-louche band. There are car-chase strings, double-kicks on the bass drum, and nimble-fingered bass-work from John Gustafson. In a nod to the football-terrace anthems of the future, there’s also a good deal of wordless chanting. If only Bryan Ferry knew his handiwork would someday inspire this.

Find me in the matinée!

Just a quick prelude before the meat of the matter a bit later on. I’ve literally just walked in from having gone to see Franz Ferdinand at the Hammersmith Apollo (now inexplicably re-christened the HMV Apollo). It were brilliant! The band were, unsurprisingly, very tight, and enjoyed a great rapport with the crowd. Songs new and old received a warm reception, the new ones in particular benefiting from the energy of the live environment. My goodness do they have a mighty rhythm section, capable of buoying those killer hooks for mass crowd singalongs.

Because I never wonder, how the girl feels

 

Back in 2004, I walked into HMV and was faced with the choice of buying either The Killers’ Hot Fuss or Franz Ferdinand’s eponymous debut. Thank goodness I endorsed the latter. While their contemporaries have meandered through the wilderness of Americana before pandering to their love of 80s guilty pleasures, Franz Ferdinand’s career to date has been elusive, concise and, most importantly, of a consistently high quality. To those who feel hoodwinked by 2005’s sophomore effort, You Could Have It So Much Better, I would proffer that while their debut was considerably sleeker and tauter, the second release was of comparable quality, only brasher, grittier and angrier. It was recorded in a hurry – often seen as a curse – but I would maintain that its more developed song structures showed greater depth to the band’s abilities.

Step into 2009 and, against a backdrop of mediocre indie and attractive female electro-popsters, how does the Scottish quartet’s latest effort fare? Much has been said of the intervening years, in which the band experimented with creaky synths, Afrobeat grooves and shiny pop producers, but has any of this actually surfaced in Tonight: Franz Ferdinand? One thing that can safely be said is that Tonight… is a considerably leaner beast than the last; more focused on the dancefloor than society’s ills. Tracks like No You Girls and the opener, Ulysses, ride on football terrace choruses and hooks while successfully navigating the waters of synthesiser experimentation. When the band deal a heavier hand, as in the case of What She Came For and Twilight Omens, the songs have a pleasing blend of retro glam and roadhouse eruptions. Treated piano gives way to well-produced rhythm-led stomps that are attractive and memorable, if not instantly history-rewriting.

Conceptually, frontman Alex Kapranos reckons Tonight is a depiction of a typical lads’ night out, from the discovery of a new drug (Ulysses), through the naïvety of first love (No You Girls), to the euphoria of the dancefloor (Live Alone, which channels Blondie and Abba through a Glaswegian burr). In this respect, the album is bang on the money: far from being a discrete set of radio-ready singles, the group are clever enough to know the benefits of pacing and narrative arc, thus the album unfolds true to Kapranos’ cheeky and insightful lyrics. The climax of this night on the tiles arrives halfway through undoubted centrepiece Lucid Dreams, which, isolated from the context of the album, sounds wildly experimental and strangely lurching. In context, this eight-minute marathon represents the transformation from innocence into hedonism, as a krautrock groove makes way for four minutes of Moroder-esque acid-house freakout.

After the peak must come the comedown, surely, and the album delivers here, too. The loping, sideways Dream Again is reminiscent of Tom Waits at his addled best, while closer Katherine Kiss Me is a partial reprise of No You Girls, re-imagined as a acoustic troubadour’s farewell. On paper, these varied genres sound wildly disparate, but the cohesion of an album can come from lyrical themes too, as shown in this instance. By allowing the events of the night to take hold of the album, Kapranos delivers a resounding finger to those who would doubt their breadth in songwriting skills. Tonight may lack the instant appeal of the band’s debut, and the songs may not stand the test of time in the same way, but it offers an intriguing insight into their less obvious influences – a key example being Send Him Away, which apes Vampire Weekend in its pursuit of African poly-rhythms and psych-funk grooves.

Do Franz Ferdinand remain relevant in the aftermath of the scene they helped to revive? Not really, but I would argue that that scene has gone stale to such a degree that no band with any artistic integrity would even want to. From here on, the band could go in myriad directions, provided they can keep on delivering the hooks and lyrical invention and wit that have kept them a cut above the rest of the pack thus far. Long may Nick McCarthy’s Moogs and Korgs fart and groan!