I didn't really hear a bad song by Franz Ferdinand this week. Every track was catchy, most were suitably energetic, and all of them sound like a band having fun. But as the week wore on, everything started to blend together. By Wednesday, I was convinced that all of the group's output was just a variation on their first self-titled album. By Friday, I was convinced that every track on that album was just a variation on their most popular hit, "Take Me Out."
Now "Take Me Out" is a great song, and its justifiably landed at the top of a lot of "Best Songs of the Decade" lists. It's one of those songs that will please everyone from hardcore music snobs and your grandmother, with a bouncy guitar line that's hard to dislike and impossible to dislodge from your brain. It's the best thing the band ever did. But it might have well been the only thing the band ever did. The rest of their output sounds like a band circling "Take Me Out," hoping to find a path back to that fabled center.
I can't really begrudge a band for doing this. In some ways, it's probably better to stick with what you know than to branch out for the sake of branching out. But when you've condensed your entire aesthetic into a brilliant four-minute song, where do you even go? I'd hate to say that there's no point for Franz Ferdinand's continued existence as a band, but if there is, they haven't quite proved it yet.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to listen to "Take Me Out" for the umpteenth time this week. Doo-doo, doodoo doo doo doo...
ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Franz Ferdinand
WHAT I KNEW BEFORE: I had heard "Take Me Out" a couple of times, but really nothing else. Little did I realize that there wasn't that much more to hear.
MY LISTENING: I listened to Franz Ferdinand (2004) every day this week. I also listened to You Could Have It So Much Better (2005) three times, and Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (2009) twice.
WHAT I LIKED:
I am being a little unfair to Franz Ferdinand. The immense catchiness of "Take Me Out" sort of overshadows the rest of the album, but through and through it's a solid piece of rock and roll, and doesn't really have a weak track. "The Dark of the Matinée" has another good, head-bobbing chorus, "This Fire" has a simple yet addictive guitar line, "40 Ft" ends with some nice drone-laden guitars. If "Take Me Out" is the stand-out of the album, the rest of the songs shouldn't be ashamed to rub shoulders with it. The whole album is suave and confident, but each track still retains a dark kind of mystery to it; it's a great combination of lighthearted, danceable rock and some scuzzier stuff always just lurking underneath.
And, to be fair, You Could Have It So Much Better is not a bad album so much as more of the same. The band makes a few attempts at expanding their repertoire here, but "Walk Away" and "Fade Together" sound like the band taking steps toward a new sound but never quite having the guts to finish the trip. Those few acoustic tracks, and the synth-laden songs like "Come On Home," hint at a band that has more tricks up its sleeves, but these tricks never quite materialize.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
You Could Have It So Much Better is an apt summary for Franz Ferdinand's output as a whole. We could have it so much better than "Do You Want To," an attempt to emulate the energetic rhythms of "Take Me Out." We could have it so much better than the enjoyable but ultimately unfilling "Outsiders," which closes the album. We could have it so much better than the schizophrenic "I'm Your Villain" as it lurches from hook to hook.
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand features a few less guitars than its predecessors, but this doesn't mean that the sound has really changed all that much. "Ulysses," for examples, uses a lot of synthesizers, but the song still doesn't sound all that different - electric guitar or electric keyboard, Franz Ferdinand sounds pretty much the same in the end, with the same swaggering rhythms, and the same catchy choruses. It's not bad music, but it's nothing earth-shattering either.
I don't want to sound like I hate Franz Ferdinand after this week. Each of their albums is perfectly serviceable, and all three have some great song-writing. But for a band that was hailed back in 2004 as some kind of rock'n'roll saviors, they've sure been running in circles a lot.
BEST SONG YOU'VE HEARD: "Take Me Out"
Need I say more?
BEST SONG YOU HAVEN'T HEARD: "Lucid Dreams"
This is on Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and it's an interesting sidetrack. The standard Franz Ferdinand sound gives way in the second half to an extended synth jam. I'm not sure if if necessarily works, but it's fun to see the band branching out here a bit.
NEXT WEEK'S ARTIST: Fatboy Slim