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Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand

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Artist: Franz Ferdinand

Album: Franz Ferdinand

Label: Domino

Review date: Mar. 14, 2004

Ever since American sailors began befouling Liverpool harbor with imported rock and R&B LPs, the English have been throwing our own music back at us in anglified form. From the Rolling Stones’ “blues” rock, to the blue-eyed soul of Van Morrison, the Brits seem to have an uncanny knack for synthesizing American influences, and more often than not, improving on the source. Such a process seems to be occurring on the self-titled debut album from Glasgow’s much-hyped Franz Ferdinand, who draw primarily upon American New Wave acts (Talking Heads, Blondie, Television) and their modern day would-be heirs (the Strokes, Interpol, the Rapture). In true British Invasion fashion, however, Franz Ferdinand successfully outdo many of their American counterparts, at least in terms of consistently strong songwriting and readily-apparent musical ingenuity.

Franz Ferdinand’s sound relies on Strokes-inspired dueling guitar leads, pulsating disco beats, and stylishly detached vocals; indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more “of the moment” style that so perfectly integrates all of indie rock’s recent trends. Top that off with the fact that the band throws out catchy hooks by the score (sometimes several per song, given their penchant for suite-like constructions), and you’d seem to have a bulletproof formula for success. UK listeners, at least, certainly seem to think so, having landed Franz Ferdinand’s second single, “Take Me Out,” at No. 3, and the subsequent full-length at No. 2 on the charts (right behind unstoppable musical juggernaut Norah Jones). To some extent, Franz Ferdinand deserve such a response: their debut single “Darts of Pleasure,” was one of the best rock songs of last year, and packs more energy and ideas into four minutes than most bands manage in a whole album, and the follow-up, “Take Me Out,” is nearly as good. Their equal attention to the dancefloor and melody makes the tuneful guitar-pop of the Strokes look pallid and paralyzed in comparison, and their consistently catchy grooves may win over those who found the Rapture’s Echoes a bit spotty.

The album, however, is certainly not without its weak spots. Despite aiming for audacity on “Take Me Out,” with its leave-me-and-kill-me sentiment, or steamy homoeroticism on “Michael,” frontman Alex Kapranos’s vocals often seem to take a backseat to the music they accompany; aside from a few striking moments, the lyrics remain rather innocuous and anonymous. Perhaps as a result of the lack of vocal communication, the album sometimes seems to lack a strong personality or character, particularly during its comparatively weak middle section; all the musical elements may be in place, but a certain human spark is smothered by an excess of posturing and mannerisms.

However great the merits of their debut might be, one can’t help but feel that there’s something just a little too perfect about Franz Ferdinand, as though they had planned out hipster world-domination around a scientifically constructed chart of “what’s hot and what’s not.” They’re just a little too stylish and trendy for their own good, and true measurement of their abilities will perhaps only be possible after they weathered the storm of hype that’s surrounded their debut.

By Michael Cramer

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