A four-year break between records, for a high-profile band like Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand, can be a good thing. But it can also signal problems within a band: creative differences, a rut, or the beginning of the end. The lads from Glasgow reportedly wanted to take their time with Tonight, so much so that they abandoned studio sessions with producer Brian Higgins in favour of Dan Carey (Hot Chip, CSS). What this translates into is much of the same formula employed on 2005’s You Could Have It So Much Better and their 2004 debut, but with a few new colours added to the palette.
On album-opener “Ulysses,” after the first minute of minimal percussion, bass-heavy synths and a whispery lead singer Alex Kapranos crooning “Let’s get high,” it’s clear that FF are branching out. It sets the tone for the album – a sexual motif that at times even slithers its way into Nickleback balls-before-brains territory. The second song “Turn It On,” with its call-and-response chorus, is equally as radio-friendly as the later occurring “Bite Hard.” Both catchy songs are MTV-ready, despite sounding like cheesy dorm-room fodder.
It’s hard to think of Franz Ferdinand being anything but hip – with contemporaries like the Strokes, Interpol and the Killers all a part of the early 2000’s post-punk/garage revival. But what was once an exciting time in post-grunge indie, precisely when Bush began his “war on terror,” is now seemingly banal; a footnote in a chapter of the decade’s earlier musical offerings.
Obviously no band wants to be relegated to a footnote, and a good way to avoid such peril is to reinvent oneself. In the case of FF, adding more sounds to the arsenal and taking a few (calculated) risks. But most of the risks on Tonight don’t pay off. “No You Girls” has the same swing as their debut single “Take Me Out,” while failing to coalesce all of the brilliant ideas that the latter was able to. The roundabout bass line and sing-song chorus is so formulaic it is seems like an exercise, rather than a composition.”Send Her Away,” at the album’s middle point, unravels not quite as predictably as many of Tonight’s other songs. The guitar work, while not immediately impressive, suggests a few fleeting thoughts of Television, but the song’s percussive and rhythmic mechanics are more disco jive than CBGB’s jolt.
“Live Alone” comes off sounding like an LCD Soundsystem misstep, and “Can’t Stop Feeling” trades FF’s cocksure lyrics for trivial sentiment coupled with a overly simple four-note keyboard riff. The more elaborate “Lucid Dream,” is one of Tonight’s curiosities (using actual human bones for percussion!). The band stretch their legs during almost eight minutes of ramshackle jamming, before literally inviting Justice in on the action – resulting in highly distorted synths riding bouncy electro drums for the song’s last three minutes.
Album-closer “Katherine Kiss Me” is an awkward stripped down acoustic number. Sung by Kapranos in baritone, lyrics like: “You glance a ricochet from every alpha male behind me / eyes like marbles on a washing machine,” are easily the album’s best.
Surely Tonight is going to move a lot of units, both online and in increasingly vacuous record stores. It’s the kind of album that has the potential to galvanize new fans, appease old ones, and perpetuate mediocrity – all of which are highly likely. And while the album as a whole is nothing remarkable, it isn’t terrible either. Tonight’s sex-charged themes are at times charming, but nowhere near enough to make reaching for that Stones record instead, a bad choice.