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Music Review

Franz Ferdinand: 'Tonight'

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Franz Ferdinand: 'Tonight'
Released on Monday, Jan 26 2009

"It's just Franz Ferdinand let loose in a big building!" drummer Paul Thompson told DS last week, when asked to describe the band's third album. While that may not be the most appetite-whetting description, it's a far more accurate interpretation of Tonight than many of the rumours circulating over the last 12 months. Sessions with Xenomania suggested a shiny pop record could in the offing, while a performance with Damon Albarn's Africa Express got tongues wagging about the post-punkers going all Afrobeat third time out. Thankfully, anyone expecting an Alex Kapranos bongo odyssey will have to wait, because Franz actually haven't strayed far from the musical formula they honed on their 2004 debut and 2005's You Could Have It So Much Better.

Actually there are two primary differences between Tonight and its predecessors: one, the band have developed a healthy fascination with synths; two, it's Bob Hardy's bass rather than Nick McCarthy's guitar which directs the majority of the songs. While the distinctly underwhelming lead single 'Ulysses' may not be an accurate representation of the album's quality, its tense plod and sinister electronic buzz are a perfect warm-up for what's to come musically. Where Better was all frantic guitars and whip-cracking choruses, Tonight reduces the BPM a touch, tips its cap to seventies funk and finds Franz making "music for girls to dance to".

The stop-start rhythms of 'Turn It On', the twitching funk of 'Bite Hard' and the luscious pop of should-have-been-first-single 'No You Girls' showcase the band's ability to switch from rock to pop with the deftest of touches - and they should keep the label happy when they come knocking on the door for "hits". However, it's the dreamy landscapes of 'Lucid Dreams', which morphs into an eight-minute acid-house wig-out, the B-movie soundtrack 'Twilight Omens' and the jittery 'Send It Away' - a track that surely added to those Afrobeat rumours - that truly mark out Franz's ambitions to be more than a Jo Whiley-approved guitar band.

Thankfully, Kapranos has lost none of his lyrical bite third time out - somehow he still manages to sound like a hormonal teenager rather than a thirtysomething Guardian food columnist during his euphemism-heavy tales of love on the dancefloor. "Kiss me where your eyes won't meet me," he winks on 'No You Girls', while on 'Twilight Omens' he even manages to tell an anecdote about writing rude words on calculators. Meanwhile, on the hazy 'Katherine Kiss Me' he captures the bumbling awkwardness of young lovers perfectly ("Yes I love you... I mean... I'd love to get to know you") and blends it with sweet observational wordplay ("Flick your eyes at me briefly, your leather jacket lies in sticky cider blackberry").

Despite the best efforts of producer Dan Carey (Kylie, Hot Chip), Tonight lacks the coherent core necessary to make it a classic. It's a manic, sprawling affair that never truly fixes itself as a pop album, a dance disc or just another Franz record. That said, whichever way the band decide to shift for album number four, it should prove very, very exciting.


> Click here to read our recent interview with Franz Ferdinand

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