Franz Ferdinand could have it better but still avoids sophomore slump

by Caitlin Kelly | 10/20/05 5:00am

Have you ever found yourself quickly switching radio channels or clicking through a playlist, barely hearing one song before tiring of it and switching to another? Well, if that's the equivalent of "song ADD," then Franz Ferdinand's second album, "You Could Have It So Much Better" is the closest thing to aural Ritalin that you can find.

Someone must have listened to the praise heaped on the band's self-titled debut, specifically on the thrilling turnaround in the middle of its hit single "Take Me Out." ("Think we sound like the Strokes? Think again!") Lead singer Alex Kapranos and his bandmates Nick McCarthy (guitar, keyboard), Paul Thompson (drums) and Bob Hardy (bass) have packed more hooks, riffs and tempo changes into 41 minutes than many bands have in their entire discographies.

These boys from Glasgow haven't changed much in the year and a half since their last release; one gets the sense that they saw no reason to defy the expected "sophomore slump" with a statement album or a new sound. Instead, "You Could Have It So Much Better" is more of the same funk-punk that Franz Ferdinand has made their own. These days, a band can't have a strong, angular guitar lick without being compared to them.

Yet while no single riff on the album falls flat, the sheer volume of catchiness doesn't make up for the fact that most of the songs aren't that memorable. Indeed, the numerous tempo swings and melodic switches in some songs backfire, with dueling guitars by Kapranos and McCarthy sometimes becoming jarring. At four minutes, "I'm Your Villain" in particular suffers for this; it should have been edited down by at least one minute and three musical influences.

There's no "Take Me Out" here, no matter how hard many of the songs try. That said, though, most of the songs are playlist-worthy. All 13 tracks can be a little overwhelming taken together, but in single-size portions, the amped-up glam antics of Franz Ferdinand are some of the best sounds on the airwaves today.

Whereas "Franz Ferdinand" opened with soft acoustic guitar and Kapranos' broody crooning, "You Could Have It So Much Better" delves right in with the riff-heavy "The Fallen," which ends up being one of the album's strongest tracks. It doesn't back down musically or lyrically, warning the listener in theologically-themed lyrics to "never judge us."

Despite Kapranos' warning, fans should feel a little shortchanged by the album. It's breathless fun while you're listening to it, but after the album ends, you're left with a few licks stuck in your head that you can't quite place and others still that eventually morph into your favorite tracks from the first LP.

The "Franz Ferdinand sound" -- consisting of angular-but-stylish riffs and Kapranos' angsty vocals over disco beats, elements that often belie the louche and darkly witty lyrics -- dominates the album, so much so that the band comes dangerously close to self-caricature. (See the aforementioned "I'm Your Villain," among others, for an example.)

"This Boy" and "Do You Want To," the album's first single, are practically remixes of the homoerotic "Michael" on the first album. Witness how little changes from "This is what I am, I am a man / So come and dance with me Michael" to "Your famous friend / Well I blew him before you." (If Times New Roman could convey melodies, the similarities would be even more obvious.)

Thankfully, the band takes a break from the singles, and these slower moments comprise many of the album's highlights. "Walk Away" takes its cues from a different set of '80s pop influences -- more Morissey than the Pixies. This different side of Franz Ferdinand reaches its zenith in "Eleanor Put Your Boots On," a pretty little pop song reminiscent of The Beatles circa "Revolver." With so much focus on the musical elements of Franz Ferdinand's songs, the relative peace and quiet of "Eleanor" and others allows the listener to appreciate the wonderful lyrical stylings of Kapranos and McCarthy.

"Fade Together," another slower song dominated by piano and acoustic guitar, takes poignancy and romance -- soulful elements of many songs that are more often than not masked by seedier images -- and places them on center stage.

The album closes weakly with "Outsiders," a poor choice to put on the album let alone to close it. A better choice would have been one of the dance anthems that Franz Ferdinand has pretty much mastered in spite of weaknesses in the LP as a whole.

Had Franz Ferdinand waited longer to release a new album, allowing more time between recording and touring for songs to develop, "You Could Have It So Much Better" would be just that -- better. It's almost as if the band has too much energy to let an album evolve, like they love making people dance far too much to stop what they're doing.

In the album's best moments, the members of Franz Ferdinand show that there is plenty of good music waiting to strut out of them. In the meantime, while we wait for their next great "Take Me Out" moment, there are still plenty of riffs to get stuck in our heads, and plenty of parties that Franz Ferdinand can call home.

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