If ever an album seemed like ripe fodder for the scathing fangs of a cynical music critic, that album would be Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. Even in a year of surprise returns from the grave, this seems a bridge too far. A David Bowie or My Bloody Valentine album in 2013? That much we can stomach, perhaps even embrace. But a Franz Ferdinand album in 2013? Anachronism! Few bands feel quite as ill-fitting in the present moment as Franz Ferdinand. With the so-called “post-punk revival” of the mid-2000s now long past the point of cultural relevance (and safely entombed in the world of iPod ads and Guitar Hero), what is there left for a music reviewer to do but play the Serbian assassin and level my pen straight at our prophetically-named friends’ jugulars. Wouldn’t that be more merciful (or at least more entertaining)?
If only it were so simple. Scoff if you will. Laugh if you must. But there is no getting around the fact that this is not the fourth album death-knell we were expecting (although we have had plenty of experience with those lately). It is, in fact, a solid album. Put away your rose-colored glasses and sharply-honed cynicism, and you’ll find Right Thoughts is as much a Franz Ferdinand album as anything they’ve released in the past decade.
That Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions exists in the first place shouldn’t be all too surprising. After all, while the initial reaction to 2009’s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand was lukewarm at best, in retrospect it marked a much-needed move forward for the group. While the idea of cladding the post-punk sensibilities of their (now classic) eponymous and sophomore albums with a lurid veneer of synth-pop fluorescence was about as tasteful as a neon-green leather jacket, there was something strangely badass about the whole thing. Like in a jean-jacket and jeans sort of way. Tacky? Perhaps. But there was something uncommonly sincere about the whole thing. Tonight was the sound of a band that wasn’t afraid to risk a distasteful step forward. Sure the whole thing was about as punk as Daft Punk. But go back and listen to that album — you might be surprised just how well it held up.
In many ways, Right Thoughts sounds like an attempt at reconciling Tonight’s dance-floor noir sensibilities with the pop-punk flare of their earlier work. Imagine putting the past three Franz Ferdinand albums in a blender for 35 minutes, and you might start to get a sense of what you’re drinking. It’s not a bad recipe, but you can tell some of the ingredients have been on the shelf since 2004. While opening track and lead single “Right Action” attempts to recapture the spark of Franz Ferdinand, the obnoxious, repetitive chorus is so mind-numbing it will have you reflexively reaching for the skip button. It’s an example of the band leaning much too far on their old style, but without the same sense of “authenticity.” It sounds like someone at Domino demanded that the band write a radio hit, and the result was a harmless, dumbed-down version of “Do You Want To.” And eight years too late, I might add.
But lop off the opening track and you’re left with a surprisingly robust sampling of what made Franz Ferdinand notable in the first place. “Evil Eye” ably picks up where Tonight’s “Twilight Omens” left off, and “Love Illumination” delivers as the album’s one genuine single. “Stand on the Horizon” and “Bullet” end up being pleasant surprises for anyone who loved “The Dark of the Matinée” or “Walk Away,” and “Brief Encounters” and “Goodbye Lovers and Friends” nicely cap off the album. It might take a couple listens to hit home, but give it a couple runs through and you’re bound to get more than a few of these tracks stuck in your head.
That’s all well and good, but there is no getting around the fact that we live in the year 2013, and this is something Franz Ferdinand will surely have to contend with. Even ignoring the tectonic shifts in music over the past decade, this is by no means a novel or inventive album. And if the copious comparisons in the last paragraph didn’t already give it away, there isn’t much here that we haven’t already heard in some prior permutation. But if you were expecting Franz Ferdinand to completely reinvent the wheel in 2013, you’ve missed the point. What we have here is a solid work by a band that has long-since had anything to prove. I don’t think the album will draw many newcomers into the fold. But if you still remember the first time you stumbled across the album art for You Could Have It So Much Better by chance in the public library, this album might be the nostalgia trip of the year. And if we’ve reached the point where our Glaswegian pals keep releasing an album like this every four years, I think I might even be able to get used to the idea. It feels kind of comforting actually.