splendid > reviews > 3/15/2004
Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Jacqueline"

Buy me now
Not since the heyday of the Strokes and the White Stripes (!) have the British rock press been so unanimously orgiastic over a bunch of sharp-dressed, song-writing instrument wielders. Chin-stroking cynics, meanwhile, are having a somewhat confusing field month. Some of the reason for said excitement comes from the over-eager nationalism of the British rock press and Franz Ferdinand's sourcing of virtually every halfway-important British (and even the odd American) rock band to have emerged since the country went decimal. Some of the reason for said confusion, however, is that against all odds, and regardless of whether or not it's possible to survey such hype with anything approaching sobriety or objectivity, this Glaswegian four-piece have genuinely got something going in the face of the hype. Granted, this has been said of countless other over-hyped bands, but honestly, this is a terrifically exciting debut, imbued with a zest, energy and songwriting flair that warrants -- perhaps even commands -- some sort of attention.

Careful listening isn't required to notice echoes of Gang Of Four's scratchy swing, The Smiths' lambent lovelorn proclivity, The Fall's sideways punk dynamism and even a dance-oriented pulse that suggests, albeit abstractly, the rampant rhythmic hedonism of acid house-era warehouse parties and the low-slung dance productions of the DFA crew. There's also some of the most striking use of bass since Peter Hook's work with New Order and Joy Division, and the presence of curiously evocative lyricism that gives the most banal of situations a curiously exciting resonance ("It's always better on holiday... That's why we only work when we need the money"), as well as the seemingly obligatory employment of jerky, scratchy guitar a la Television, all dolled up in a spazz-dance sheen. Despite all of this, these are ridiculously tuneful, deceptively straightforward rock songs, all of which hover around the three-to-four minute mark. Comparisons with the aforementioned Strokes are all but inevitable, both in scenario and in sound.

"Jacqueline" opens on a wistful acoustic guitar refrain, then broods on that infamous rumble of bass, careening into a scratchy, catchy hook, only to explode in a herky-jerky dance of a rock song, armed with one of those ludicrous call-to-arms chant choruses that forms the crux of eminently likable pop songs far and wide. Ultimately, these first 56 seconds amount to the kind of over-zealous introduction that career-defining debuts are built upon, and the real reason for the orbit of frenzy around this band makes itself glaringly apparent. The subsequent "Tell Her Tonight" is defined by frenzied, clicking disco hi-hat, more lucid, swinging bass, clicky guitar and the kind of repetitive turn of phrase that bores itself onto lobes with intuitive ease: "I only watched her walk but she saw it / I only heard her talk but she saw it / I only touched her lips but she saw it / I only kissed her lips but she saw it..."

And then, "Take Me Out". Easily one of the finest British singles to have tackled an Archduke's assassination in the manner of an invitation to a hedonistic night out, it opens as a Television-like post-punk jam centerd on melodically dueling guitars, with Alex Kapranos singing, "So if you're lonely / You know I'm here waiting for you / I'm just a crosshair / I'm just a shot away from you." From a distance it could be mistaken for a peculiarly love-struck Strokes, but 50 seconds in, the song downshifts, strikingly, into a brazen, twitchily anthemic punk-funk stab. It's inexplicably thrilling, a born hit single and an oddly sexy dancefloor stomper in the bargain.

It's somewhat frustrating that there's barely a duff note on this 11-track set. "Auf Asche" makes synth-whistling sound almost heartbreaking amid its dance-punk clatter, the riotous junk pulse of "This Fire" makes Radio 4 seem like a bunch of callous weekenders, and "Michael" is the funkiest moment of homoeroticism in rock since...who knows? All in all, Franz Ferdinand have managed what the likes of !!! and Out Hud are striving so artsily to do -- plant rock'n'roll excitement back on the dancefloor where it belongs. Indeed, this album is an arms-flailing classic, to which dancing like a headcase yields inexplicable reward. And yet these are some of the most strikingly immediate and accessible songs you're likely to hear for quite a while. The ink may have barely dried on their record contract, but already Franz Ferdinand are something quite special, and anyone based offside the NME-reading ley lines should prepare for their invasion (or is that "liberation"?).



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