I’m a little bummed that I never really got a chance to see Franz Ferdinand before they got really big, but the inherent problem with that is that, by the time they got to the States, they were already pretty big. It makes sense, really—they’re skinny, well-groomed, happy-go-lucky UK exports with a truck full of catchy tunes. How could they not be huge? Franz Ferdinand offered everything we Yanks look for in a band, and we ate it up. But bands that get big quickly off the success of a critically acclaimed debut often have trouble following that first record with a worthy sophomore release. It would be only natural to have the same reaction toward Franz Ferdinand, and clearly, some refuse to admit that You Could Have It So Much Better is a good record.
That’s the thing, though. You Could Have It So Much Better is actually a really good record. It’s good in the same way that their debut was a really good record, because, quite frankly, not much has changed. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Franz Ferdinand got it right the first time, so here, they manage to keep up the high energy pace of their debut, with some occasional surprises and a batch of great tunes throughout.
“The Fallen” instantly blows through the speakers with the same kind of force that “Jacqueline” did on the band’s debut. Fierce riffs and a great melody are the central force driving this track, reminding us of what was so great about Franz in the first place. “Do You Want To,” the first single, also reminds us of what the band truly is—a singles band. Combining elements of “Hard Day’s Night” and “Saturday Night,” the song is a cheeky teen idol anthem with some goofy homoerotic lyrics and a video depicting the band creating hi-jinks in matching uniforms. It’s not quite the tour-de-force that was “Take Me Out,” but it’s certainly a catchy number that’s bound to end up on a few critics’ year-end lists.
There are moments of restrained melodicism that break up the otherwise continuous flow of punky rockers. Jangly “Walk Away” is an instant standout that would make a splendid single, should the folks at Sony want to promote the more diverse aspects of the band. The Beatlesque “Eleanor Put Your Boots Back On,” as well, shows a new side of the band that could flower into something magnificent, should they pursue more pretty balladry and pure pop in the future. Still, it’s hard to resist them when they rock out, which they do quite well on tracks like the jerky “What You Meant,” the sinister “I’m Your Villain” or the chaotic “Evil and a Heathen.”
Franz Ferdinand are an easy band to like, and there’s a lot to love on You Could Have It So Much Better. It doesn’t hold quite as well together as an album as the first record did, but a debut that great is hard to top. In any case, the Scottish quartet has given us several pleasant surprises, and another set of great songs to make us feel stylish and carefree, if only for a short time.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.