Franz Ferdinand Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

[Domino/Sony; 2009]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: “post-punk revival”
Others: Duran Duran, The Libertines, The Strokes

Most bands lumped in with the so-called “post-punk revival” tend to skew towards either dark, overwrought prose-poems (Interpol, Editors, She Wants Revenge) or dance-friendly angularity (Bloc Party, The Rapture, Radio 4). Franz Ferdinand have never comfortably fit into either of these groups -- they've been arty but not pretentious, dark but not depressing, sexy but not obvious. They're Josef K as often as they are Duran Duran, but this time around, they're much more the latter.

Alex Kapranos has described Tonight as “music of the night: to fling yourself around your room to as you psyche yourself for a night of hedonism, for the dance-floor, flirtation, for your desolate heart-stop, for losing it and loving losing it, for the chemical surge in your bloodstream.” It's certainly obvious from the first listen -- synths dominate many of the songs, particularly “Bite Hard” and “Ulysses.”

The problem seems to be either that they're losing their touch or they think that a “dance record” should by necessity be more brainless than their previous work. Lyrics were never their strongest suit, but I always got a strange thrill from the slow build-up of “Jacqueline” and the sniper/love dualities of “Take Me Out.” Here, Kapranos just yells “I'm bored, come on, let's get high.” It's like they've forgotten how an entire generation of hipsters shivered with desire when he sang “Take your white finger/ Slide the nail under the top and bottom buttons of my blazer.” What's more, the songs are strangely understated and less hook-filled. Even “Ulysses,” ostensibly the album's rave-up, stand-out single, just seems flat and affectless compared to their best work.

In the end, the most promising songs on here aren't necessarily the best, but rather the ones that point to a new direction for the band. “Lucid Dreams,” which was released as a teaser back in August, was fairly unimpressive at the time. Now, it's spacier, more dub-influenced, and they've added a 3-minute synth freak-out at the end. It's the sole reminder of their claims back in 2007 that they were going to give up their guitars entirely.

It's not particularly surprising that this album doesn't live up to the hype. There was really no way Franz Ferdinand could have met the expectations set by an excellent debut and a follow-up that damn near matched it. (Besides, everyone knows that the third-album let-down is the new sophomore slump. It happened to Interpol and The Strokes, too.) There's still enough innovation and experimentation among the banalities here to suggest that they might have a great fourth album in them. Or maybe Alex Kapranos really is too stoned and bored to give a shit anymore.

1. Ulysses
2. Turn It On
3. No You Girls Never Know
4. Twilight Omens
5. Send Him Away
6. Live Alone
7. Bite Hard
8. What She Came For
9. Can't Stop Feeling
10. Lucid Dreams
11. Dream Again
12. Katherine Kiss Me

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