Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand

Have you thought about Franz Ferdinand much lately? After the one two-punch of their self-titled debut in 2004 and You Could Have It So Much Better in 2005, the Scottish indie rockers slowed down a bit. It took four years for their third album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, to appear, and then another four for its successor, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, to see release, at which point it came and went rather quietly in the grand scheme of 2013. A lot changes in those spans of time. I may be in the minority of people who actually thinks Tonight is the band’s best album, and even with that I still haven’t gotten around to really listening to last year’s follow-up. Mostly, it was surprising to see the name Franz Ferdinand thrown around in your Twitter feed or making any sort of headlines in 2013 — not because they aren’t likable, but just because they seem very rooted in a specific time and place. With a slew of hits in 2004-2006 but an increasingly minor presence since, Franz Ferdinand seem a holdover from that stint of post-punk revivalism — particularly in British bands — that followed on the heels of the whole retro-rock thing. Recently, I wrote about the Walkmen’s Bows + Arrows turning ten, and how it would still make sense as a new release today. The exact opposite is true of Franz Ferdinand. When I think of how 2004 sounded, this album is a good summary.

This is perhaps due to environmental things as much as anything else. For those of us who were teenagers in small towns in the Northeast — able to hear echoes from the cities, but still plenty distant — Franz Ferdinand was the sort of alternative-leaning pop-rock band that served as one of two things. It could be your first taste of alternative-leaning pop-rock, something that gave you a hint there was something beyond the nu-metal that dominated your hometown’s aesthetic. (Amazingly, nu-metal still dominates my hometown’s aesthetic.) Or, to a burgeoning music listener, they were the sort of band you’d sneer at and say, “Well, they’re all right for a mainstream band, but they’re far from real alternative.” This was 2004: Those sorts of tribal lines were still trying to mean something relevant. And because this was 2004, record stores and video countdowns weren’t yet entirely pointless in a young person’s quest to explore the music world. Franz Ferdinand were accessible. Franz Ferdinand went platinum in America. The video for “Take Me Out” was inescapable on MTV. They’re forever burned into my memory as the sort of band that I’d hear in the mall and, teenaged rockist that I was, at least be thankful they were playing something with guitars that didn’t sound like Seether. They’re forever burned into my memory as the sort of band some enterprising young-ish teacher would play at high school functions by way of throwing a bone to the art-kid set.

So I mainly remember Franz Ferdinand as a band I wasn’t really supposed to like, but a band whose hits I found pretty catchy anyway. Which is selling this album short — from a historical perspective, anyway. Franz Ferdinand was met with across-the-board critical acclaim upon its release. It won the Mercury Prize. It’s easy to take for granted or roll your eyes at now, but they were a not-inconsequential group in a generation of young bands who made rock music feel vital again in an era where there was very much a sense of anxiety about the possibility of such an endeavor. That they did so by explicitly looking back to past forms and styles — more on which in a moment — is part of a much bigger issue of retro-leaning post-2000 culture, and is also besides the point. After a late-’90s of all the bands throwing out their guitars for synthesizers (don’t let 2013 fool you; that too is cyclical), it was an early ’00s of younger bands eschewing synthesizers for guitars. Or, at least, the ones Fuse and MTV and Vh1 played.

And even if I came around to this stuff later, there’s no denying how adeptly Franz Ferdinand made guitar music infectious once more. The band still mostly strikes me as a singles band. “Take Me Out,” “Dark of the Matinee,” “This Fire,” and “Michael” — all just from Franz Ferdinand — are indelible little bits of mid-’00s rock. It would take an extreme contrarian to try to sell you on the idea that any of their album cuts surpass the singles. For the most part, this is entirely valid, because these singles are pretty unstoppable. Even if the herky-jerky rhythms and steady pulses and Alex Kapranos’ vocal delivery are all vintage ’04 indie rock, that doesn’t change the fact that Franz Ferdinand did it amongst the best. As much as they sound very much of their era, these are still excellent, earworm-y songs. Personally, I’ve always been partial to “Michael”; its chorus still gets stuck in my head every now and then. The bigger hits were “This Fire” (which sounds really 2004 in perhaps the only detrimental instance amongst these tracks), “The Dark Of The Matinee” (which is great and, along with “Tell Her Tonight,” adds a little bit of funkiness to the band’s early rhythmic palette), and “Take Me Out,” which … you know.

Will “Take Me Out” ever get old? Did it ever get old? Maybe it’s already been through cycles of getting old and then sounding fresh again. Whatever the situation, whenever Franz Ferdinand seemed good or bad or hip or unhip, this song has always seemed undying, mostly rightfully. You hear “Take Me Out” at a party, and it might make a few people smirk as it reminds them so specifically of 10 years ago, but in general it’s universally loveable. People with only a passing interest in music and diehard listeners alike can find common ground with a song like this, neither party needing to identify it as a guilty pleasure. That moment, about a minute in, when that perfectly angular little riff finally comes in: that is one of the immortal moments of ’00s indie rock. Say what you will about Franz Ferdinand — not many artists get one of those to their name.

When we come around to these anniversary pieces, there can be a degree of shock. “How can this album be ten years old? Where did that decade go?” “It still sounds great, not a day past a year old.” If you’re out and “Take Me Out” or one of the other Franz Ferdinand singles comes on, it might bring a smile to your face, but it is one tinged with nostalgia — even if it’s not your own for the band’s heyday, then it is for the history they and Arctic Monkeys and the Strokes and the White Stripes and (maybe? Even?) early Kaiser Chiefs evoked. In hindsight, I think my problem with that era of bands was less a matter of trying to navigate false-indie-posturing and nonsensical taste debates, but moreso that they all seemed vaguely cartoonish. The Strokes were a cartoon of old Manhattan edginess, the White Stripes a cartoon of a cartoon of Americana and roots music, and Franz Ferdinand a cartoon of the first wave of popular art-rock bands, the likes of Blondie and Talking Heads, etc. As much as their expansive network of references to different art movements (Futurism, Dadaism, various Russian and German movements, and more contemporary styles all jostle together freely) adds an unforeseen depth to their music, it still feels like a depth specifically of stacked references.

This is the thing about the early ’00s class coming around to their anniversaries. Their sound was refreshing when it first hit in those initial years of the new millennium. But within a few years Franz Ferdinand itself already felt like an anniversary of some other thing, someone’s platonic ideal of what a post-punk inflected rock album should look and sound like. Perhaps because they blatantly held so much history in them, albums like Franz Ferdinand make 2004 feel very distant. Which is good, in one sense — it’s now easier to enjoy the band for their effortless hooks, without the baggage of their circumstance. But it also means Franz Ferdinand sounds a lot more aged than its ten year birthday would let on. Blame it on the speed of modern life if you want, but even though this is the music I grew up on, it already sounds inherited. It’s already classic rock.

Comments (63)
  1. FWIW, the OTHER Franz Ferdinand turned 150 in December.

  2. “(Amazingly, nu-metal still dominates my hometown’s aesthetic.)”

    Northeast + nu-metal = A very good chance that you either lived in Western Massachusetts or Connecticut.

    • Driving from Boston to my grandmother’s house in the Berkshires was always like time-traveling back 10 years, based on what the radio stations were playing.

      • How pumped are you gonna be for the “Korn’s self-titled turns 20″ write-up which I KNOW is coming later this year?

        • Geez, that came out in 94? Holy shit. Does this mean we should brace ourselves for a nu-metal revival period, or will that come later when Hybrid Theory turns 20?

  3. I can’t remember the last time I listened to Franz Ferdinand, but in its heyday, this was one of the albums (along with Antics, Hot Fuss, and Good News for People Who Love Bad News) that turned me away from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, etc. and towards contemporary indie/alternative.

    • Right on, similar turning point for me as well.

    • I’m lost, are you celebrating the fact that bands like The Killers turned you away from Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd?

      • honlads  |   Posted on Feb 7th +11

        I don’t think that’s what’s being celebrated here, rather the fact that this album, and a few others, stopped him being a classic example of a “there’s no good music anymore” type person.
        In my opinion, that is a thing to be celebrated, because those people are the worst (I was one too).

        • You may be right, but it seems like you would have to read A LOT into what he’s saying to pull that out. It sounds more like “Yecch, I was listening to old man garbage and Franz Ferdinand and The Killers came along and now I know what the cool things are.”

          • I think you’re reading more into it than I am, to be honest. “Turned me away from” was probably a poor choice of words for our friend mr. mayonaise.

          • Honlads is correct. I went through a nu metal phase when I was 13 and 14, and then I went through a classic rock phase and definitely wrote some angry screeds in my Xanga about how there’s no good music anymore. Then some openminded friends and a handful of albums led me to realize that I should probably give music that’s not from the previous millennium a chance.

        • Agreed. I was also in the category of “hip hop” isn’t real music, so glad I can appreciate varied music now.

  4. “It would take an extreme contrarian to try to sell you on the idea that any of their album cuts surpass the singles.”

    Well, I wouldn’t consider this an extreme opinion, but opener “Jacqueline” gets me every. single. time.

    Also I don’t think you’re too far off in thinking “Tonight” is their best album. “Lucid Dreams” anyone?

    • I’ve always thought 40′ was in the top three.

    • “Lucid Dreams” all the time. And “Twilight Omens”. And “Live Alone”. I just realized Tonight is the Franz Ferdinand album that I’ve listened the most.

      On the other hand, I think Franz Ferdinand is the best FF album. Many people can be tired of “Take Me Out” (I’m not so tired), but come on! If you hear the complete album, not only the singles, you can find jewels like “Jacqueline”, “Auf auchse”, “Tell Her Tonight”, or “Cheating on You”. It’s not the best album of the decade, but it’s important AND awesome.

    • I think Franz Ferdinand is their best album. But their best song? The Fallen, hands down.

    • I scrolled down just to see if someone had jumped to the defence of Jacqueline, 40′ and the final chant of Darts of Pleasure. Not disappointed!

    • original lucid dreams >>>>>> odd decision to include the dub version on the LP

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  7. Amazing album that sort of changed my life (if i allow myself to be dramatic about it). Like mr. mayonaise said, it took me away from these typical classic rock bands that i was listening to at the time. I felt semi cool listening to this CD in school rather than the typical Metallica/Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple thing most guys were listening to at the time.

    Regarding the singles and other album cuts. I would like to point out the song Auf Achse which might not surpass the singles in quality, but definitely is in similar quality.

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      • Yeah i know it was a miracle how Franz Ferdinand came and liberated me from the prison that these bands had put me in.

        But in all seriousness these bands are of course great. What I meant is that i had only been listening to this kind of old/classic guitar rock music for a very long time and was one of those who thought that no new music could ever reach its greatness.

        This Franz Ferdinand album changed that perspective and i started to look for new interesting music instead of being just stuck in the past.

  8. I went on a britpop kick a few weeks ago and listened to Franz Ferdinand for a bit. They’re still one of my favorite concerts, though it was 10 years ago. I just remember the crowd being super happy and dancing like crazy, unlike most of the punk/emo shows I was going to at the time. Plus Sons and Daughters opened, another great band.

    For some reason, “All for You Sophia” is probably my favorite of theirs, it sounds like all their other songs but it’s still my favorite.

  9. “It would take an extreme contrarian to try to sell you on the idea that any of their album cuts surpass the singles.”

    I see almost zero difference between the singles and the rest of that album. I understand why Take Me Out is the biggest hit on the album but the idea that songs like “Jacqueline” and “Tell Her Tonight” don’t stack up to the rest is ridiculous. To me that album is one of the most even keeled great song albums in the past 20 years.

  10. I think you’re operating too much under the assumption that a lot of us are embarrassed of liking this band or this album.

    This album fucking rules (and hell, the band still rules in my opinion).

  11. For the most part, the world moved on, but there is really not a bad FF album. I enjoy them all pretty much equally. I think you could put together a best-of playlist that would be absolutely lethal.

    • Hmmm, off the top of my head (arranged by album). I get the feeling if I did this again tomorrow it’d be a very different list (especially for the later albums).

      1. Jacqueline
      2. Take Me Out
      3. Dark of the Matinee
      4. Michael
      5. The Fallen
      6. What You Meant
      7. Lucid Dreams
      8. Turn It On
      9. Katherine Kiss Me
      10. Bullet

      It’s just so painful to split up the first album at all, it’s so well put together..

  12. Nothing wrong with making Gang of Four more fun! I’d subscribe to that cartoon all day.

  13. Such an underrated album, and one of the ones responsible for shaping my current tastes.

    I think the main difference between Franz Ferdinand then and now is that they can still put out fantastic singles, but back then they used to fill entire albums with them

  14. I hated this album so much upon its release. To my ears it sounded like a very long TV commercial (or Gang of Four for little kids). With the years I’ve developped some kind of soft spot for it. When I hear Darts of Pleasure now, I find it quite good, even Take Me Out seems fun enough.

    • OK, ok, I apologize, I was a little bit harsh. And after reading this great write-up I want to give another chance to this album.

  15. I think Tonight is also the best FF album so you’re not alone. All their records are great though. Always was a bit frustrated that the Killers turned into an arena act here in the states when all of their (Killers) records are so spotty. Maybe the Killers are a better singles band but Franz is a better BAND.

  16. I think the best thing about this album is how every song sounded familiar while blowing my mind out for how bold it was. I remember hearing Take Me Out for what perhaps was the first time and thinking “wow, I’m sure I’ve heard this before, but this sounds so new”.
    That being said, that song, and the whole album as a matter of fact, still sounds totally fresh 10 years later.

    oh, and Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is a hell of a fun to listen to.

    • I remember playing Take Me Out for my friend for the first time. For those first 40 seconds he was like “eh, sounds just like The Strokes.” Than that riff kicked in. He shut up fast.

  17. ads  |   Posted on Feb 7th 0

    Brilliant album. I remember browsing a CD shop (remember them?) when a couple hipster chicks were bopping around to ‘Tell Her Tonight’s verses. I bought it and fell in love. Jacqueline, Dark Of The Matinee, and Darts Of Pleasure alone for lyrics. Brought the boy-girl dancing back in a way that maybe Pulp did to brit-indie.

  18. I actually agree that Tonight is probably their best album.

  19. Woah now – Darts of Pleasure was every bit Take Me Out’s equal. The final chant in German is *excellent*.

  20. I was just getting into “good” music in a big way and the garage rock/New Wave revivals were definitely my gateway drug. I remember listening to this album on my Discman (was this 2004 or 1994?) and loving every second. The next day I went to a wedding with my parents and was so excited to listen to it again I snuck out of the hotel room so I could sit and play it in the rental car. Good times, but thank God for the iPod.

    The only thing I don’t like on Franz Ferdinand is the production — it sounds really thin. I think the band said as much too. Their subsequent albums are much more muscular, for lack of a better term.

  21. Its remarkable how big FF really were in the mid 2000′s… And rightfully so.

    Look at the Coachella 2006 lineup. The headliners on Saturday were Depeche Mode, Daft Punk THEN Franz Ferdinand. Fascinating how much popularity can sway within 5-10 years…

  22. I remember reading about their first shows at the bowery ballroom on stereogum and ultragrrrl in 2004. So crazy that was 10 years ago.

  23. Stop making me feel old, Stereogum.

  24. Ah yes, 2004. The year when indie went mainstream (if that makes sense). Bands like Interpol, Modest Mouse, The Shins, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, Keane would dominate radio and MTV. There was so much diversity in the rock genre then and it helped broaden my musical taste in the process.

    As for Franz Ferdinand, it seems they cant reach an audience aside from radio singles and its a shame since their other material is just as catchy. Its annoying how radio stations will constantly play Take Me Out and ignore the other songs. I thought the new album was decent, just not as good as their first or Tonight.

  25. I thought Franz Ferdinand sucked at the time, and I still do. Blegh.

  26. This shit came out when I was 12, dog.

    TWELVE.

  27. I think the prevailing question is: Does anyone really give a shit?

  28. Sometimes (not always) I think that we can get a little too caught up in the context and surroundings of bands or albums, as if that matters most. Bows and Arrows might seem like it would be fresh if it were released today simply because it never attained as much mass awareness as Franz Ferdinand did, so it doesn’t have that same “we’ve all heard this before” feeling as Franz.
    I personally like Bows and Arrows more than Franz Ferdinand’s debut, but I can’t say that most of the songs off of the Franz album aren’t incredibly well written and worth listening to regardless of when it came out, and I bet that there are plenty of 15 year old kids who will stumble upon it on Spotify and think, “damn, it would be cool if music today sounded more like this!”
    5 or so years ago Blur sounded way more dated than they do now, right?
    On a similar note, on this blog and other places, I notice a trend of people using the term “rockist” too much, almost apologizing for the fact that they got heavy into music because at one point they liked interesting guitar rock and feel a little guilty that sometimes they still do. Liking guitars doesn’t need to be rationalized or contextualized. Rock isn’t going away, it’s still got plenty of great artists that can exist comfortably and relevantly amongst the great electronic, hip hop and pop artists out there. I know I am rambling a bit and it’s late but I just get this weird vibe that people feel like they need to apologize for or rationalize being into catchy guitar pop, which gets back to my context thing I guess.
    Basically, this album rules and will continue to rule and in ten years we will be having a similar “discussion” about Disclosure, who will still sound just as good on their 10th anniversary as Franz Ferdinand will on their 20th…right?

  29. “It could be your first taste of alternative-leaning pop-rock, something that gave you a hint there was something beyond the nu-metal that dominated your hometown’s aesthetic” – that was it for me. I had heard bits of The Strokes and The White Stripes but this was the first band that made me realize how much better “alternative” rock could be than say, Linkin Park or Green Day (I was 14). It started the journey that took me to Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire later in the year, and soon after to Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon, and My Bloody Valentine. So I would like to thank Franz Ferdinand for being a gateway cool band for suburban 14 year olds.

  30. This album will never get old! Its sound scape it delivered was already stating an era that it is not from.
    In 2004 it was probably one of the few albums that inspired a lot of kids (or adults) to actually play guitar and lead that beautiful push of the indie-rock movement of the time!

  31. I was 8 I think when this album came out. Take Me Out would be the first song I heard that I still listen to today. Great album.

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