Live Music + Gig Reviews

FFS @ Forum, London

8 September 2015

FFS It’s a great name, of course. In fact, as high-concept pop goes, FFS are an almost perfect pitch: the Snakes On A Plane of wry, adroit art-rock. So when the first album from Franz Ferdinand and Sparks’ new project hit the shelves, it was a relief to discover that there was more to this coalition than that marvellous moniker – after all, a little archness goes a long way, and few want to hand over hard cash for the recorded equivalent of a knowing smirk.

Well received critically, FFS was Sparks’ Mael brothers’ first ‘conventional’ album since 2008, and gave them their highest UK album chart placing for almost 40 years. For Franz Ferdinand, too, the album’s reception was welcome, although 2013’s bright, funky Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action had already improved on troubled third Tonight.

Having toured in Europe throughout the summer, this show at the Forum is FFS’ first London date since their appearance at the Troxy in June, and it’s pretty packed, the crowd mixed between the older fans (S) and the younger (FF).

As dual frontmen, Russell Mael and Alex Kapranos impress from the off, Russell resplendent in a striped poncho and Alex spinning and leg-dropping through a feisty Johnny Delusional and The Man Without A Tan. Vocally, a slightly muddy mix hampers both but particularly does Kapranos no favours, accentuating the differences between Mael’s operatics and his flatter tones, where on record the combination succeeds because, rather than in spite of this incongruity.

The Tragedy-alike keyboards of Save Me From Myself still sparkle among the swamped harmonies, though, and by the time Kapranos picks up his Telecaster for the dual-guitar stomp of Dictator’s Son, any sound shortcomings have been cleared up. Here, as on the best of their songs, both bands clearly bring something to the other’s table; Sparks in particular sound energised by the return to a glammed-up sound.

As strong as the original material is, the audience are here for more than this, and fans in both camps are rewarded with four songs apiece. Sparks’ Sherlock Holmes, from 1982’s Angst In My Pants, gets its first FFS performance, and there’s a roof-raising This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us. But it’s the discofied When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” – usually Pet Shop Boys-esque, now more like New Order – and the undulating Giorgio Moroder synths that pulse through The Number One Song In Heaven that seem to suit the pairing particularly well.

The latter gets one of the biggest cheers of the night (possibly due to Ron Mael’s customary dance) and flows brilliantly into a thumping take on Franz Ferdinand’s Michael, which never sounded so good; No You Girls, from Tonight, is similarly transformed. As far as the crowd are concerned though, both are trumped by future Radio X playlist staples Do You Want To and, inevitably, Take Me Out; the Maels’ input may be slightly lessened here, but it’s difficult to tell amid all the joyous bouncing and bellowing from the delighted Franz faithful.

FFS’ best is kept till last, and they end with Piss Off, originally presented to Franz Ferdinand by Sparks a decade ago. Thankfully, they didn’t take it personally, and with every encore of the theatrical Collaborations Don’t Work it’s more and more obvious that this one certainly does.

There’s a cartoon from the venerable Viz that shows Ron and Russell Mael outside an airport while a cabbie tries to remove their baggage, wedged firmly in his boot. “When this gets out Sparks are gonna fly,” the caption reads. Tonight, with a little help from Franz, that’s just what they did.

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FFS @ Forum, London