Beware the difficult third album. It’s taken three years for Franz Ferdinand to write and record their follow-up to the patchy You Could Have It So Much Better, an album they rushed out following the huge success of their self-titled debut.
Producers (including Brian Higgins from pop production behemoths Xenomania) were recruited and then ditched and there was talk of the band using skeleton bones for percussion and collecting rare synths to use instead of guitars. Mooted new directions were announced at seemingly monthly intervals. But still no new music emerged.
Sharp of suit and with eyebrow firmly raised, the Franz Ferdinand of 2003 helped breathe new life into a music scene dominated by American imports. However, as with The Strokes before them, the question the band has to face now is, does anyone still care?
Tonight kicks off with new single Ulysses, which, given its importance, doesn’t exactly scream ‘Top 5 single’ on first listen. Over time though it begins to gnaw away at you, those incessant hooks running the fine line between catchy and irritating.
Next up is Turn It On, which is Franz Ferdinand by numbers, Alex Kapranos throwing out hormonal couplets over machine-like drums and wiry guitar. It’s like Orange Juice but with less pith and more shrug. So far, so ominous.
Things improve drastically however in the middle of the album, Twilight Omens utilizing a delicious keyboard riff that explodes into another massive chorus, as does the delirious Bite Hard, whilst Send Him Away betrays a mooted African influence, coming across as a slightly skewed Talking Heads. Lyrically, Kapranos offers up genuine emotion on the chorus; “Well I don’t care, his skin is still between the still-born fold of your sheets”.
Elsewhere, Live Alone is an electro lament with a heart of ice, Can’t Stop Feeling features a bass pounding synth melody that Hot Chip would be proud of and No You Girls is clearly the album’s big single, featuring as it does a huge chorus, a guitar solo, handclaps and a built in festival moment where the music falls away before building back up again in a manner not unlike the Kaiser Chiefs.
Perhaps the key track on the whole album, however, is Lucid Dreams. At nearly eight minutes long it’s by far the most obviously experimental track the band have attempted and yet it feels somewhat calculated. For the first four minutes the song rumbles on nicely enough before suddenly descending into an electronic coda that sounds like a Soulwax off-cut.
It’s a surprise to hear, and not exactly unwelcome, but it begs the question of why they didn’t take more of a risk, not only with the rest of the song but with the album too. They clearly want to experiment, and it can be difficult to move your sound forward and not lose the tunes, but tacking on four minutes of beebs and blips seems to signal a lack of confidence, if anything.
Tonight isn’t a bad album by any means, and it’s certainly an improvement on their last effort. But at the same time you can’t shake the feeling that they missed a trick. If you’re going to wait three years (which may as well be a decade given music’s quick turnaround) then you need to come back with a bolder statement then this. For all the talk of new directions and innovative recording techniques, this is an album that can’t quite strike a balance between pleasing the converts and pushing the envelope.