Is it a blessing or a curse to be anointed the “next big thing” after your debut? While iconic alternative bands of the ’90s, like Radiohead, Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins used their first record as the calm before the storm, plenty of bands in this decade have hit the floor running, and the attention is overbearing. Franz Ferdinand is another example in the laundry list that includes Coldplay, Interpol, The Strokes, Bloc Party and a few others.
The problem with all this immediate attention is the overwhelming pressure to get back to the high standard you’ve already set, and most struggle to get there. Franz Ferdinand’s second effort “You Could Have It So Much Better” was received decently, but the discouraging comparisons to its self-titled debut were plenty. After that inevitable sophomore let down, the expectation for the band to return to relevancy with its third record “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” is almost palpable.
One thing about Franz Ferdinand is that you get exactly what you expect from its music. “Ulysses” starts off the album with familiar restraint only to explode with catchy infectious chords. The sharp distinction between lead vocalist Alex Kapranos’ subtle harmonizing and his exuberant exclamations are on full display right at the start of the album, and the shifts between the two often make the band hit or miss.
“No You Girls” has a slithering bass line and a few dirty guitar riffs that provide plenty of intrigue until a distracting repetitive chorus provides an unnecessary detour. “Turn It On” and “Send Him Away” catches two sides of the band, the former being jittery and frantic while the latter is subdued and calming. However, neither stands out.
The gorgeous opening to “Bite Hard” recalls the band’s opener for its debut, “Jacqueline.” After a calm minute, the thumping drums push the rest of the song along and it’s definitely a highlight on the album. The seamless transitions capture the group at their best.
After the meandering “What She Came For,” the album really takes off. “Live Alone” features one of catchiest choruses the quartet has done. The verses are a perfect compliment and the song moves along without missing a beat. “Can’t Stop Feeling” starts with some fuzz, and then sweeps you off your feet with another excellent bass line.
Here Kapranos’ voice is on full display, without the excessive hooting and hollering. “Lucid Dreams” is a little long, but it’s worth the price of admission once the band lets loose and practically morphs into an electronic band during the latter half.
The last couple songs are pretty soothing, but the highlight is the closer, “Katherine Kiss Me,” which features the band completely stripped down. The band shines here; it’s a shame it doesn’t do more acoustic tracks.
The one thing Franz Ferdinand doesn’t have that many of their immediately acclaimed counterparts have is change. Most bands that are praised immediately usually look for a way out, and that’s usually by changing their sound or tinkering with it a bit. Sometimes it’s silly to mess with a good thing, but when the quality of your music is falling, at least each record provides something different for different moods.
Here, Franz Ferdinand gives you exactly the style of music you expect, and there’s always initial excitement. But after the first couple of listens, if you have a couple of albums that have the exact same style, you’ll likely want to hear the better record. So even if this is a minor step up from the band’s last album, it’s still much easier to listen to the debut and have more fun.