Saturday, January 31, 2009

Album review: Franz Ferdinand - Tonight (3.5/5)

Franz Ferdinand's enjoyable first two albums boasted a good dose of attitude and memorable pop hooks. Sadly, their new album, Tonight, features much less of both, and while the lack of the former may just be a sign of maturity, the lack of the second makes the album a disappointment, particularly after having to wait over 3 years since You Could Have It So Much Better.

That's not to say it's a bad album, it's just not what I was hoping for. "Ulysses" is the groovy opener, pulsing with synthesizer effects and the band's signature disco swagger; however, it lacks the energy of prior hits like "Do You Want to" and "Take Me Out," but it's pretty good. "Turn It On" has a little more energy, but still isn't very memorable. "No You Girls" is perhaps the first promising track here, it's got an assertive dance rhythm propelled by keyboard bass notes and drums and a good shake-your-ass and clap-your-hands chorus. "No You Girls'" energy drains away though for trippy "Send Him Away."

Piano and '80s keyboards form the backbone of "Twilight Omens," another of the album's better tracks. It's too short though, and followed by "Bite Hard," which is about as hard-hitting as anything here, but other than its transitional synth riff, lacks much melody. I'm not wild about "What She Came For," which is also surprisingly devoid of a good pop melody. "Live Alone," however, is pretty cool. It's upbeat and dance-y, but kind of dark, with a great melody.

The final third of the album, like the other two, is a mix of the good and the "just okay." Count "Can't Stop Feeling" in the second category, where an annoying raspy synth effect appears to have eaten the song's prospect for a proper chorus, as well as slow and dreary "Dream Again." Final track "Katherine Kiss Me," although also a slow song, but it's actually pretty lovely.

The real oddity here is "Lucid Dreams." The song was released as an early preview track in September, but on the album it gets a dramatic makeover, including a new intro, a very long (like 4 minutes) instrumental second half, and a sharper '70s-sounding arrangement. The constantly shifting song may seem a bit schizophrenic, but it's actually pretty exciting that there's something this experimental here.

If you listen carefully there are things to enjoy about Tonight, but for a band who once sang about "the dark of the matinee," I feel like I shouldn't have to work so hard. Their sense of fun was so prominent before, particularly on Franz Ferdinand, and disco/rock should be fun, so why does it sound so forced this time?

Best: No You Girls, Live Alone, Ulysses, Twilight Omens, Lucid Dreams


John said...

I've been waiting to listen to this when I could really pay attention, but this is not promising news. Having been more about the singles in the past, though, maybe I won't have the same expectations. Thanks for the review.

ww_adh said...

It will be interesting to see what they put out as singles. I think "No You Girls" would be an obvious choice.