In the same oblique way that the Strokes evoke New York circa 1977, it could be said that Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled debut evokes London circa 1981. Their post-punk sound has led some to call them the new Joy Division, but this is unfair for two reasons: first, they shoot much higher than cynical retro-fetishism, and, second, Joy Division were never this good.
These four Glaswegians—that means they’re from Glasgow—have been the beneficiaries of more hype in the British press than any band since, well, the Strokes. The album dropped this Tuesday, March 9, less than two weeks after the band quelled any lingering doubts with an incendiary set at T.T. the Bear’s.
The album-opener “Jacqueline” begins deceptively, with desk workers Ivor and Jacqueline gazing longingly into one another’s eyes to the tune of an idly strummed guitar. It’s the album’s only peaceful moment, and a brief one at that. Their courtship is quickly blown apart by the most urgently infectious guitar hook to debase a song since the Pixies. The song accelerates into something more frenetic, dangerous, and complicated—how like love. “It’s always better on holiday / That’s why we only work when we need the money,” singer Alex Kapranos enthuses while guitars rage and cascade beneath him. The result sounds like a new wave torch song crossed with a high-velocity punk thrasher crossed with a beer hall anthem. It’s also the best guitar rock song in years.
The rest of the album is just as engaging. “Take Me Out,” which shot to number three on the British singles chart within a week of its release, sounds like the best song the Strokes never wrote for its first minute, before deconstructing itself into exuberant bohemian funk.
Franz Ferdinand begin many of their songs with a nod to their influences before heading off towards parts unknown. “Come on Home” starts with a shimmering guitar line on loan from Blondie, then grooves away unabashedly with some positively Keatsian lyrical work from Kapranos: “Moonlight falls upon your perfect skin / Falls, and you draw back again.”
The album reaches its climax on the sinister “Darts of Pleasure,” which oscillates wildly between decadent swagger and lovesick croon before sheer inertia flings it out of its orbit into a furious sing-along German coda—“Ich heisse Superfantastisch! Ich trinke Schampus und Lachfisch!”—which the band has compared to the moment of orgasm. In case you’re wondering about the German, guitarist/keyboardist Nick McCarthy spent his childhood in Munich.
Franz Ferdinand combine intelligent innovation with instant accessibility in a way few bands can. For this they owe a good deal to their buoyant rhythm section, comprising bassist Bob Hardy and drummer Paul Thomson, and their stated aim to “make records that girls can dance to, and to cut through postured crap.” Franz Ferdinand leaves the lasting impression of a band with more good ideas and enthusiasm than it knows what to do with.