The music industry is a fickle business. New bands come along all the time, but unless they do something to stand out from the crowd, their music won't sell and they'll fade back into oblivion.
Recommend this product?
Franz Ferdinand is one band who have come along this year and dared to sound different. Their high chart ratings tell you the result.
However, the flipside to sounding different is that all your singles need to sound different from other artists' so you'll always stand out, but your singles all need to sound similar to each other so the listening public doesn't get confused as to who you are.
The problem with Franz Ferdinand's debut album is that it doesn't sound like they decided what all the singles were going to be before releasing the album. As such, the album is full of music that sounds completely different to anything other artists are putting out. However, it's also an album full of songs that sound the same as each other.
The first two singles, Take Me Out and The Dark Of The Matinee have recived a lot of airplay, so you'll recognise them when listening to the album. Unfortunately, they're placed right next to each other. The effect of this is that all the songs around them simply blend in with each other.
It's not that Franz Ferdinand isn't fun to listen to - the opposite couldn't be more true. This is catchy, up-tempo music which makes great use of the bass. If one band is going to make people dance, even a white boy like myself, it'll be Franz Ferdinand.
My problem with the album is simply that one gets so lost in the music it becomes very hard to tell which song is which. Take the two opening tracks for example. "Jacqueline" starts off with just lead singer Alex and a guitar for the first verse, before upping the tempo for the rest of the song. "Tell Her Tonight" continues in that tempo and voice for it's entirety. While both songs are fine on their own, there's virtually no difference between them. Sure, it creates a good flow, but this music to make you dance. The songs aren't supposed to be indistinguishable from each other like that.
After that, the album lulls you into a false sense of security by playing the two songs you've probably heard over and over by now. Then the album just dumps you into the remaining seven songs with barely any distinguishing features between them. I understand some, specifically "Michael", "This Fire" and Darts Of Pleasure" have been released as singles in other parts of the world, and this helps the listener maintain a sense of familiarity with the album.
When I started this review, I didn't want it to sound entirely negative though, because even though this album does have that major flaw, it doesn't stop the music from being good. My favourite song, "The Dark Of The Matinee" is a perfect demonstration of the band's attitude towards life. It's about having sex in the old movie theatre at school, but it doesn't get too graphic with the lyrics. In that sense, it opens with the worst part "Take your white finger / slide the nail under / the top and bottom buttons of / my blazer / Relax the fraying wool / slacken ties and I'm / not to look at you in the shoe / but they eyes / find the eyes". That in itself is pretty harmless stuff, leaving the rest up to our imaginations, while the song talks about how he always liked the girl and pursued her until he got her. It's rather innocent stuff, and chances are you had an experience like it when you were in high school, whether you were the chaser or the chasee. Basically it says to me that the band are a little bit cheeky, but they can take things seriously as well.
"Michael" is an example of the band taking both of those attitudes and merging them. It's a guy, singing a love song about another guy ("Come and dance with me, Michael"). If the band had ever come out and proclaimed themselves to be homosexual, this could be treated as just another love song. To the best of my knowledge they haven't, so as I listen to this up-tempo pop tune I find myself wondering if they're taking the piss or actually hinting at being gay. Then again, it could be just an anthem for gay people. Who knows?
That wouldn't be the only place the band don't want you to know what they're on about though, as the title to track five isn't even in English. I wouldn't even know what language "Auf Achse" comes from (my guess would be German or Austrian), let alone what it means. The great thing about it though, is that it doesn't matter. I like a bit of mystery, and I'm not in any hurry to try and solve this one. The guitars and piano will have you bobbing along even before the vocals come in, and it's not like they make much of a difference. As with songs like "Jacquline", it ups the tempo after the first verse, but this time it maintains the same tempo through all the verses and only changes for the chorus. That's a tried and true technique for many bands, but Franz Ferdinand change things near the end by having the vocals nearly drowned out. It's a pretty cool touch. The song seems to be about that girl they were chasing in the matinee, but this time they don't know if they can get her or not.
The album rounds itself off with "40'" a quiet little ditty with some chanting mixed in with the singing and some very strange sound FX. They kinda sound like the type of thing you'd expect to hear in a Hollywood space action movie like Star Wars.
Franz Ferdinand have done what every new band should do, and created a sound that makes them stand out from the herd. The only problem with this is that they've got this sound so far perfected they seem nearly incapable of doing anything else. A little bit of genre experimentation on the next album wouldn't go astray, but this is still a lot of fun to listen - and dance - to. It may not be fun for the people watching me dance, but they should loosen up and join in. Franz Ferdinand said in a TV interview they wanted to make light, fun music for people to dance to, and they've succeeded. So loosen up, have a bit of fun, and chuck this on, especially at this time of year. It's the perfect CD for those family gatherings you've got coming up.