GREETINGS. I have returned from my subsurface slumber to commence the
first second ever album review to appear on the Sacred Tablets of the Moist Graffiti. You may have heard of Franz Ferdinand during history class or bumping out of taco-sauce stained speakers in your best mate’s 1999 Honda Civic. For the troglodytes among us who haven’t heard of him/them in either context, a brief primer follows:
Who is Franz Ferdinand? CORRECT. I’ll take Drunken History for $1,400, Alex! Oh, shi– DAILY DOUBLEEEEEEEE. Bet it all son. Aight. Here we go.
Who is FRANZ FERDINAND!? CORRECT. Brb spending my winnings on a tractor-trailer full of Dutchmasters. The above are true stories by the way. K I’m back.
Franz Ferdinand The Band’s first two albums (the second being essentially a coda to the first) sauntered onto the scene in the early-mid aughts with a two-rhythm guitar suite, embroidered shirts, really tight pants (before they were Indonesia’s primary export), and a commitment to dance-y beats that Kanye West later deemed “white people crunk music.” Their joints were packed with bangers, swangers, clangers, and even the occasional cute little dalliance. It really went quite hard for that era of rock, which history has adjudged largely barren of enduring art.*
Way-Back Machine Time: in the year of our Lord 2006 amidst the Bush doldrums and my tender years, yours truly saw Franz Ferdinand open for… quiet Portland-style drum roll… Death Cab for Cutie. Yeah. Looking back I’m scratching my bald spot too. At any rate, Ben Gibbard was still chunky, (more) insecure, and pre-Zooey (<— NSFW). Fantastich. Oh yeah, Franz was swell too. Back to the present.
After two LPs, egregious amounts of touring, and one can only assume heavy internal organ damage, FF dropped their third joint, Tonight. Although Tonight eventually grew on me like mold on a sloth, my initial reactions were mixed. Their continuous gunpowder parade of flat-blasters had subsided in favor of lower tempos, fuzzy synths, and lotsoflotsoflotsofoverofoverduboverduboverdubbing. Also in decline were frontman Alex Kapranos’ tactile tales of suggestive circumstances giving way to semi-sensical refrains designed for booty shakin’ and little else. These brief vignettes were replaced by abstract lyrics tasting plainly of space travel drugs. Yet, Tonight’s secrets became known to me in time, and I quite like it these days.** To me, it’s their proper sophomore album, even if it’s technically third.
Four weird years and a lot of student loans later, we arrive at the present. Quoth Alex Kapranos on RTRWRA‘s inception: “…the idea of the cynic’s search for optimism and the skeptic’s search for a manual crop up here and there. I’ve always liked the lead character in Alasdair Gray‘s Lanark growing the hard scales to defend the soft inner-self from the world. Socially awkward asthmatic with a self-consuming imagination. My 19-year-old self was electrified. Maybe the album is about how to shed those scales.”
The fuck does that even mean? Please pass the Dutch, Alex. Danke. Okay.
After several runs through RTRWRA‘s ten supple tracks, I find myself no closer to comprehending Alex’s soliloquy. What is apparent is FF’s interest in setting up base camp much closer to their titular album’s glory days rather than venturing further into Tonight‘s astral gardens. The title track hums and thrums along without real consequence. “Bullet” revives their familiar guns and love metaphor. “Love Illumination” is passable beater in, well, the tradition of Franz Ferdinand– best enjoyed at conspicuous volumes while driving at high speeds. The funky “Evil Eye” and “Brief Encounters” are middling attempts to recapture the angst that riddled so many of Kapranos’ early songs about fearful romance (the latter incorporating aging as well). The title of “Fresh Strawberries” make it sound like it’s going to be about consensual reproductive activity, but its actually an existential meditation on I don’t know what the fuck.
Still, even as the core of RTRWRA‘s beckons early FF, it promises divergence enough to let us know that growth is still on the lads’ agenda. Even when momentarily embracing familiar themes of love and ennui, the lyrics stay abstract and far away from the grimy locales of yore. The “white people crunk” still roams free on a few tracks, but its territory has diminished and its pastures have been fenced in. Finally, the synth dynamos that powered much of Tonight have been twisted into sharper and at times overproduced surf rock deedley-dee-dee-deedles and didgeridoo sproinks. Does the summation of these deviations warrant a critique of “changed sound?” Normally I’d be happy to vomit my slurried opinion into your mouth like a mother pterodactyl*** feeding its young, but here I think it’s a close enough call to invite debate without necessarily meriting it.
All negativity aside, FF still possesses the core attributes that keep it relevant nearly a decade after Franz Ferdinand. Number one: swaggy dance rock = winning formula. Try to stop tapping your toes I dare you. TRY. Number two: Kapranos himself. For lack of a more scientific explanation, the dude has chops.
Alex has always possessed a certain audible charisma, which has been spackled all over Franz’s production since the beginning. Like nutella slathered on a sad school teacher’s**** bagel, his charms are so subtly sweet that even when they’re tired or overwrought, one really doesn’t mind in the end. Whatever is going on with the band musically, he tends to amplify the good and dim the bad. On RTRWRA, “Goodbye Lovers & Friends” is no exception. Much like on previous joints “Eleanor Put Yours Boots Back On” and “Fade Together,” when FF’s collective soul strips down to its undies and plays a quiet one, Alex’s presence becomes all the brighter. Okay, okay. A.K. love note over.
So, where does all of this leave us statswise?
Moist Graffiti Rating
Tubthumpin’ Beats: 65.419
Sensicalness of Lyrics: 31.632
Sound Progression: 53.444
Alex Kapranos Swag Lord 9000: 83.999
Franz Ferdinand is Back, Fool: +5.5
Song About Fruit is Not About Boning: -5.5
Album Tour is Rolling Through
My Part of the Ocean: +1.0
MG Rating: 59.6235
As always, here at the Bottomless Caverns of the Moist Graffiti we employ only the most scientific grading methods possible. Any subjectivity found in our brains is immediately excoriated and crushed into tiny cubes, which are then sent to a monastery in Bhutan for intense study. However, if you should feel that we have been unjust in our critiques, please voice your opinions in our comments section. One of our interns will get you an asprin, scratch behind your ears, and rub your tum-tum. All better? I thought so motherfucker.
Thank you in advance for reading. Until next time, wherein I attempt to survive the charms of R&B’s newest Johnny-Come-Lately.
*::Braces for fusillade of internet hate::
**EDITOR’S NOTE: We here at the Lost Pyramids of the Moist Graffiti would probably give Tonight an 75.275 if it were to come out today.
***Spelled that right on the first go around. 5th grade science camp FTW.