All right children, take out your textbooks and turn to page 137. You will see here that on June 28th, 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Serbian student Gavril Princip. It was this single act of murder that is said to have started the First World War.
Britpop is dead. Long live Britpop! What the hell am I talking about? Well, I am making a parallel of beginnings and ends, of revolutions and riots, of art and war. Glasgow foursome Franz Ferdinand has stormed onto the scene with their UK and stateside self-titled release. The album is, in itself, a conglomeration of contradiction. It is a combination of ’80s bass-heavy pop, post-punk angst, indie smarts and glossy production.
The album begins, in the song “Jacqueline,” with frontman Alexander Kapranos cozily crooning a short story over spaced guitar strums before a buildup of guitar and bass kick in, sending the song to polished punk territory. British mags are calling the band Britain’s answer to the White Strokes, based on the energy of songs like this, though I don’t think they are so much an answer to those bands as they are a simply better alternative. The second song, “Tell Her Tonight,” is the only aberrant blip on the radar as it is mostly a Hot Hot Heat-meets-Wire amalgam. It isn’t necessarily bad, just derivative. With that song dropped, this album would nearly be perfect.
“Take Me Out,” the band’s breakout single, is an exercise in brilliant pop sensibility. The song is made up of three distinct parts which could easily have been three separate songs. The first part bounces along with quick chord changes and fuzzy vocals, then abruptly turns the corner into phase two, slower drum tempo and quicker guitar notes with a chanted chorus, and then finally a poppy bridge with escalating layered vocals singing “I know I won’t be leaving here with you.” It gets stuck in your noggin quite easily, but is welcome to stay.
“The Dark of the Matinee” finds Kapranos crooning again, Jarvis Cocker style, and is a runner-up for best song on the album. More straightforward and simpler stylistically as compared to “Take Me Out,” “Matinee” is catchy as all hell and cheeky to boot. Just listen to the third verse when the music slows and quiets and Alex singing about fame and the oddness of it all. “Find me and follow me…” is one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard.
As the album progresses, you’ll hear similarities to the basslines of Blondie and Duran Duran in “Auf Achse” (recalls both “Atomic” and “Planet Earth”), more comparisons to Pulp, possibly a little Blur, mixed in with some Pixies for good measure. “Michael” calls to mind Bowie, if not musically, at least thematically as it is, in a way, a modern retelling of “John, I’m Only Dancing.” One look at the center photo in the booklet shows a group of former art students for whom you could easily use one of the following adjectives: natty, dapper, smart, spiffy, raffish, rakish or snappy. Their clothes are even color-coordinated to match the black and brown of the band’s logo on the front cover, for which you could also use one of the above listed terms.
So, is Franz Ferdinand the British version of The White Strokes? No, but rather the next step in an evolution. Ironically, they are not the avatar of the dying archduke; instead, they are the shots fired upon him, upon the popular and derivate groups that rule the airwaves. They are the revolution of Brit pop, bringing the slick smarts of Pulp, Blur, and Suede, adding the poppy lure of the early 80’s swagger, and putting it together with modern guitar rock. Franz Ferdinand is a force to be reckoned with.