There are people in the record industry who don't know much, if anything, about music. But there are a lot of people who understand everything about marketing. When the machine gets rolling it's truly an awesome sight. For Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand it was in overdrive.
Being tagged the "next big thing" by people paid to create the "next big thing" led more than a few to suspect the group was the sum of its hype. Their self-titled debut album came out in early '04, led by the single "Take Me Out." Franz Ferdinand was everywhere; music magazines had extensive stories (complete with numerous photos) and their songs/videos were in high/burn-out rotation. Even the mainstream media was fawning over the group. Franz Ferdinand had arrived.
It all started just three years earlier, rather awkwardly, when singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos and bassist Bob Hardy began working together. They were joined by drummer Nick McCarthy, a classically trained pianist and double bass player. The trio became a quartet when former drummer-turned-guitarist Paul Thomson began working with the group. But McCarthy wanted to be a guitarist so Thomson went back to drums.
For those who aren't history majors, the original Franz Ferdinand was the Austro-Hungarian Archduke whose assassination by a fanatic triggered World War I. The Archduke's murder, while riding in an open car (which, as history has proved repeatedly, is not a good idea for rulers or politicians), was linked to the Serbian independence movement. Using the Archduke's death as a pretext for righting old wrongs and grab land, European nations enthusiastically marched off to war thinking the thing would be over in a couple months. Four years later, Europe was exhausted while kings, a kaiser and a czar, the ones who rushed into the whole thing, were dispatched, some violently. So what's all that got to do with a pop-Rock group? Nothing really. The name is an interesting, if obscure, choice.
Franz Ferdinand took up residence in an abandoned warehouse where they held rave-like events that built their reputation. Their '03 EP "Darts Of Pleasure" came out on the Domino label. The next step was opening for Hot Hot Heat and Interpol, which continued the momentum. Their debut LP nailed the U.K. and U.S. charts. Over a year of touring followed. Franz Ferdinand's second album "You Could Have It So Much Better," containing "Do You Want To," arrived in '05. On that album the group attempted to broaden their scope. "There's more to life than disco-beat guitar music," commented Hardy at the time. The album made its U.K. debut at #1. The set also landed in the Top 10 on the U.S. album chart.
Cha-ching. That was the sound one of the hottest bands in the world cashing in. An '05 self-titled double DVD had two live shows and studio tracks. There was also a karaoke version of a couple songs and some early performance footage. Absolutely charming.
At an '07 African Express show in London Franz Ferdinand performed "Can't You Let Me Stay Tonight" backed by African musicians and British Rapper Kano. The show led to reports that the group wanted to alter their sound. That was confirmed when they began work on their third studio effort in Glasgow. "The last record was...like a teenager having sex," said Kapranos. "This one's a bit more assured and a bit friendlier for the dance floor."
"Lucid Dreams" made it on the Madden NFL 09 video game and was released through iTunes. "Franz Ferdinand: Tonight" landed in early '09. The set featured the lead single "Ulysses."
"Tonight: Franz Ferdinand" went to #9 in the U.S. Billboard 200 and they opened for the Green Day's on the latter's 21st Century Breakdown World Tour. Later in the year, "Blood," dub versions of songs from "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand," was issued.
Between subsequent tours and festival appearances, Franz Ferdinand began work on their next album. "Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action" dropped in '13.
2004 Franz Ferdinand
2005 You Could Have It So Much Better
2009 Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
2013 Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
Franz Ferdinand is a perfect example of how good Britpop can be. A confident strut and swagger laced with 80's Wave makes an irresistible combination. There isn't a weak track on their debut with the pulsating come on of "Take Me Out" and the catchy "The Dark Of The Matinee" being exceptional.
Sophomore albums are often disasters or at best pale remakes of the group's debut. They regularly become the group's take fame and associated difficulties - road life, changing relationships and the stresses and strains of success (tough life). There's none of that on "You Could Have It So Much Better." Franz Ferdinand still has plenty in the tank and are looking outward rather than inward. The thumping Rocker "Do You Want To" and "The Fallen" blast out of the gate. The group agreeably slows down with the '60s influenced/touch of The Beatles ballad "Eleanor Put Your Boots On."
Franz Ferdinand's music has often been called 'white-boy disco." That term sure conjures some unsettling images. Actually, they are better than that - closer to the New Wave bands of the late '70s/early '80s who saved the world from vacuous beats while still being danceable. Even so, "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand" rings the disco bell with "Live Alone" (synth keyboards) and "Can't Stop Feeling" (fuzz keyboards). Mostly though, they keep their excesses in check and deliver a captivating pop oriented set (strong melodies and safe arrangements with a novel twist here and there) led by "Ulysses," "No You Girls" and "Lucid Dreams." "Bite Hard" is as tough as they get (which isn't all that rough but has a 'bite'). The album concludes with the acoustic ballad "Katherine Kiss," a song with film-scene images including the line "flick your cigarette, then kiss me."
The album demonstrates Franz Ferdinand's absolute mastery of synth/guitar Dance Rock.
"Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions" is more of the same - but less. "Evil Eye" tries to be dark but this is a band that can't really pull it off. But Brit Pop prevails on "Right Action" and the synth-riff driven "Love Illumination."