Bass machine with Camera Obscura, DJ, gentleman, Whovian, thrift store manager, geek for music, geek for sci-fi, geek for sitcoms, Petrocelli of the home studio, expert in the art of procrastination, waistcoat-sporting aficionado of the pocket watch, longstanding supporter of the Harry Wraggs and King of Partick. You can follow Camera Obscura on Twitter here and Patrick on Twitter here.
Franz Ferdinand came from nowhere, or so it seemed. Most of the band had been around Glasgow in bands for an age, or worked in venues doing sound, or booking the show. Familiar faces. But then, suddenly, Franz were everywhere. “Darts of Pleasure” had been a statement of intent, and then “Take Me Out” blasted out and everything went ballistic. Their self-titled debut album was a perfect pop master class, art school poise and intelligent lyrics matched with blistering, jangular guitars and a rhythm section that had dance floors filling up anywhere and everywhere. I saw the band just before it kicked off, playing the 13th Note Club in Glasgow, supporting Enon. They undoubtedly had something special, but they seemed the archetypal indie band. However, mere months later, they were a proper chart pop band, selling out bigger and bigger venues and gracing the front of every music mag and Sunday supplement, all over daytime radio, all over the TV and all over the world.
I often wondered how you cope with that, going from playing in bands that give you that chance to do whatever you like musically/artistically, to suddenly being part of something very different, where you have become a serious commercial pop act, and even your record label can’t cope with the demand for your records. It would be completely forgivable to lose your way a bit, and in a recent interview Franz Ferdinand’s singer-guitarist Alex Kapranos described the band as having done just that: two further albums, which, whilst good records, not seeming quite sure what they were aiming for and resulting in a band that seemed to have ended up in a very different place from where they had expected or wanted to be.
Four years after the previous album, 2009’s ambitious but slightly unfocused Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (and its sister bonus album Blood), they’re back with a fourth: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. In many respects, it’s a very familiar-sounding record, but in a good way. It sounds like a band at the top of their game, feeling fresh and confident about their own sound. Opening with the single “Right Action,” it’s straight into classic three-minute pop; everything is kept tight. And that is something that continues through the album — there is no excess baggage, it’s all about the pop sensibility and the sound. Co-production on two tracks by Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip (the opening and closing tracks) helps to build on their own sound, Bob Hardy’s bass clips beautifully alongside Paul Thomson’s drumming whilst Nick McCarthy and Kapranos’ guitars and synth lines are strict and trade off each other well.
Franz Ferdinand have always had some great influences on their sound, and I always think the real legacy of fellow Glaswegians Orange Juice is the ambition of successfully mixing up post-punk sensibility, attitude and independence with dancefloor nouse and pop production. “Evil Eye” feels like a nod to the Clash, whilst “Love Illumination” has a different kind of ’70s-ness about it — fuzzing guitar that wouldn’t sound out of place in a sleazy nightclub scene in a vintage crime show like Minder (UK) or Starsky and Hutch (US). The opening verse to “Stand on the Horizon” is a real standout intro, very mellow before bursting back into the album’s typical rhythmic jangle. “Fresh Strawberries” is gentler, before “Bullet” blisters its way back up a notch with an intro that recalls Orange Juice’s classic Postcard single “Blue Boy.” And the hits just keep on coming: “Treason! Animals.” is a brisk kraut-rocker, then “The Universe Expanded” brings a lot more space with it and some nice synth sound. More synths open “Brief Encounters,” which continues in a more laid-back feel, before the upbeat funeral march of “Goodbye Lovers & Friends” brings the album to a close, leaving you wanting to go back and listen again straight away and not be saying goodbye at all.
It’s great when you have a band in such confident stride, and with an instantly recognizable sound that’s more than the sum of its parts. Kapranos is in great voice throughout, and as players, the band are playing to their strengths, doing their thing the way they do it. Kapranos may sing, “Don’t play pop music/You know I hate pop music” as the album closes, but they have produced a classic pop record that swaggers in a way that’s reminiscent of their debut, but with a more knowing head on its shoulders.