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Franz Ferdinand

+ {FFS}

Naming your band after the Austro-Hungarian Archduke – whose assassination led to the first World War – might’ve appealed only to trivia buffs and collegiate historians, but to an indie-pop troupe from Glasgow, the moniker was like gold-dust. Pushing the controls of their fantasy music-machine to go forward slightly into the future, rather than backwards in time, FRANZ FERDINAND delivered their own brand of angular rock on 2004’s eponymous breakthrough – the independent imprint, Domino, had now their first bona fide chart act.
The concept of English-born buddies, Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy (the former had been living in central Scotland since the age of 8; the latter guitarist was also a classically-trained pianist), FRANZ FERDINAND got their show on the road in 2001. Along with bassist Bob Hardy, another English-born graduate from Glasgow School of Art, and guitarist-turned-sticksman, Paul Thomson (ex-YUMMY FUR and the lone Scot from the pack), FF cultivated their art school cool in an abandoned Gorbals warehouse they dubbed the Chateau.
As the brains behind the quartet’s distinctive, post-new wave/punk aesthetic, Kapranos timed the band’s entrance perfectly, incubating their sound – think The FIRE ENGINES, GANG OF FOUR, TALKING HEADS and JOSEF K – through the summer of 2002, to their zeitgeist-coasting appearance at Scotland’s best fest, T In The Park, the following year. Half-Greek, half-Anglo, with an encyclopaedic CV, Alex had been a prime mover on the Glasgow indie scene in the decade prior to forming the ‘Ferdinands (when he still calling himself Alex Huntley), playing with The AMPHETAMEANIES, QUINN, URUSEI YATSURA and The Blisters; the latter combo evolved into the all-but-forgotten, The KARELIA.
Even hotter than July was FRANZ FERDINAND’s smoking GANG OF FOUR-like demo track, `Tell Her Tonight’, touted by The STROKES, and indeed inspiration for aforementioned Domino Records to offer them a deal. The now highly collectable `Darts Of Pleasure’ single, reached a modest No.44 in the hit parade, consolidated with support slots to HOT HOT HEAT and INTERPOL. It might have been released as early as January, but follow-up `Take Me Out’ was already being touted as Single Of The Year after reaching the Top 3.
Their eponymous parent debut album, FRANZ FERDINAND (2004) {*9}, more than lived up to the hype, likewise topping most critics’ end of year rundowns as well as the British charts. A major label US deal for Epic/Sony was inevitable, but what wasn’t so predictable was the fact that, for the first time since fellow Glaswegians SIMPLE MINDS two decades earlier, a Scottish band had cracked the notoriously resistant American mainstream. Back home, the band’s drainpipe-skinny chic was everywhere, as follow-up 45 `Matinee’ racked them up another Top 10 hit. Successive singles, `Michael’ and `This Fffire’, also went Top 20, while the JACQUES BREL-esque `Jacqueline’ was almost continental. Before the winner had even been announced, they looked to pretty much have the Mercury Music Prize in the bag, a fact confirmed in early 2005, along with two Brit awards.
Given the unrelenting media attention, the self-consciously retro, `Do You Want To’, was a tongue-in-cheek single in name only, its Top 5 playlist saturation making it seem as if Franz F had never been away – okay, it’d only been a year. Chart-topping sophomore set, YOU COULD HAVE IT SO MUCH BETTER (2005) {*7}, couldn’t quite match the dark glamour of their debut, but as both Top 20 singles, `Walk Away’ and `The Fallen’, plus spastic-funk album tracks like `Outsiders’ and `Eleanor Put Your Boots On’ proved, their suave chemistry looked likely to burn for a few years yet.
Duly itching towards the mainstream market for a third set, Alex worked with the likes of producers Xenomania (Girls Aloud, et al), although a re-think of sorts led him to call up Dan Carey; meanwhile, bored with sitting about waiting for the action, McCarthy formed his own side-project, Box Codax (alongside Alex Ragnew), for the release of their first of two sets: “Only An Orchard Away” (2006) – look out too for follow-up, “Hellabuster” (2011).
Finally, after over three years in the musical wilderness, FRANZ FERDINAND resurfaced with that elusive third album, TONIGHT: {*6}, in January 2009. Top 10 in both Britain and America, the “dirty disco-pop” concept record – depicting the morning after a night out! – was a commendable attempt at turning nocturnal activities into intimate storylines. Buoyed by the Madden NFL 09 soundtrack theme, `Lucid Dreams’, and a couple of hits in `Ulysses’ and `No You Girls’, FRANZ FERDINAND’s fantasy flirtations with hedonism was their contribution to un-cinematic kitchen-sink drama. Fast forward a half year, the dub version BLOOD: (2009) {*5} – free with initial copies of “Tonight” – was made available on its lonesome.
Further funky episodes came by way of RIGHT THOUGHTS RIGHT WORDS RIGHT ACTION (2013) {*7}, an album full of throwaway hook-lines and catchy toe-tapping rhythms. Unapologetic pop that drifted into mirror-ball, 70s disco, `Right Action’, `Love Illumination’ and `Stand On The Horizon’ were the picks of the first half, although the real meat came in the second through `Treason! Animals’ and surely chart fodder, `Brief Encounters’.
The surprise announcement of the year came in March 2015 when FRANZ FERDINAND and the SPARKS duo amalgamated resources to form FFS. Buoyed by enthusiastic response for download previews, `Johnny Delusional’ and the double-entendre `Call Girl’ (plus the irony-fuelled duet/duel `Collaborations Don’t Work’), the nerdy Mael brothers jumped on the prog-glam Tardis for the flight of a lifetime on the eponymous FFS {*8}. Gleeful and glamp as predicted (Russ’s tenor matching Alex’s baritone), the Glasgow-L.A. divide was shortened by numerous shape-shifting air-miles on the theatrical and danceable `Dictator’s Son’, `Police Encounters’ and, a song penned some 12 years back, `Piss Off’ – err… no offence taken.
Long-time FF component Nick McCarthy decided to leave thereafter, and prior to hitting the footlights once again, guitarist Dino Bardot (ex-1990s) and keyboardist Julian Corrie (aka MIAOUX MIAOUX) became another ingredient to FRANZ FERDINAND. Those fans familiar with Corrie’s aforesaid electro-pop act saw the shift in style coming; those familiar with the combos (PHOENIX, JUSTICE et al) produced by knob-twiddler Philippe Zdar had also concerns that the sweeping changes would dilute their raw dance-punk into 80s new wave. As it turned out, the foretoken download title track from 2018’s ALWAYS ASCENDING {*6} caused little consternation, but for a little broadening of their spacey sound. On a commercial level FF were on an even keel (hp#6), but the critics had a field day lambasting several dinky dirges; with the exception of `Feel The Love Go’, `Lazy Boy’, `Paper Cages’ and `Finally’.
© MC Strong 2006/ERD // rev-up MCS Sep2013-Feb2018

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