You Could Have it So Much Better
By Amir Nezar | 28 September 2005
You could say that Franz Ferdinand are ambiguous. A hard tack to pin down. Are they ironic or brutally sincere? ‘Cuz their MTV2 video for their new single, “Do You Want To” is, well, completely ridiculous, Alex Kapranos all chanting, “Well do ya / Do ya do ya wanna!” He even has the God-size ego required to croon, “When I woke up tonight I said I’m / Going to make somebody love me / I’m going to make somebody love me / Now I know / Now I know / Now I know / That it’s you / You’re lucky lucky you’re so lucky.” Lucky you, indeed.
But then on “The Fallen,” You Could Have it So Much Better’s opener, Kapranos’s lyrics are pretty fucking serious: “We’ve already seen / That the fallen are the virtuous among us / Walk among us / If you judge us / We’re all damned.” Damned, indeed.
And then there’s the whole sexuality thing which sprang up on their debut LP – yeah, “Michael” – which caused politically correct heterosexuals to accuse the Ferdinands of mockery or insincerity, and gave homosexuals hopes of being Kapranos’s groupies (False hopes? Who knows). Was it whimsical, irresponsible, to sing, “So sexy / I’m sexy / So come and dance with me Michael”?
‘Cuz there are songs on a href=“franz_franz2004.html”>Franz Ferdinand that look pretty straight. And you know how we like our sexuality: rock ‘n roll straight, disco-queer, or… Jamie Stewart? No confusing intimations of bisexuality (bicuriosity?), please. But here it is again. The same duality seems to manifest in You Could Have It: love songs addressed to chicks (“Eleanor”), lust-songs that are likely addressed to dudes (“This Boy,” about a guy’s sugar daddy), and a whole bunch that are about as ambiguous (in-between?) as can be.
The answer, for the New Scottish Gentry, to these contradictions and ambiguities is mostly likely in – appropriately enough – the title track to their sophomore effort: “Now there’s some grinning goon / On my TV screen / Telling us all that / It’s alright because / She wears this and / He said that and / If you get some of these / It’ll all be alright…Well I refuse / To be a cynical goon / Passing the masses / An easy answer.”
Translated: “What do you mean, ‘You want an answer’? If you think you can get one, just check your telly. There are enough idiots there who’ve got them. Better yet, they’ll sell you some.”
(I’ll get to the music in a second, but I’ve got to finish this Newellian thread.)
In this way – coloring everything in gray shades – Franz Ferdinand are one of the most honest bands on the planet. That is to say, their elusion of various consistencies (irony or sincerity, gay or straight) and their liberal navigation of the areas in between poles is a fairly accurate picture of human character. Nobody really cries all the time, or laughs all the time, or pleads all the time, or loves all the time, or mourns all the time – and for music to be populated with the same unrealistic consistencies is, in some basic sense, disingenuous. So, nary a few breaths after he’s done singing about blowing someone’s famous friend, Kapranos is singing about waiting for a girl he wants to “come over here.” He’ll mix political metaphors with love metaphors. He’ll mix loving with leaving, submission with doses of superiority, irony with sincerity. So Franz Ferdinand are not far from Whitman’s facile question: “Do I contradict myself?” The answer is, of course, yes, and further, that it’s natural to do so.
The reason this is all worth several paragraphs in an ostensible music review is this: the actual character of the band and its words has an important deepening effect on their music. As far as their songs go, Franz Ferdinand are already experts in writing great Brit-pop hooks and melodies. But just as, for instance, David Bowie’s a href=”../3/bowie_low.html”>Low is fleshed out with thematic brilliance via its injection of character and complexity into great pop, so You Could Have It is nudged from “great” to “special” by its depth of personality.
Kapranos’s lyrical penmanship is itself remarkable; the man possesses a fine fluency in poetic tropes and uses them elegantly, mixing consonance, alliteration, and even playing with meter to pretty, and literary, effect. Kapranos also possesses a special talent for mingling a sense of poeticism, indirect meaning, and humor in his lyrics. Frequently he’s downright hilarious, when in “This Boy” he punctuates lines admiring a “spectacular” boy, a “wealthy bachelor,” with petulant cries of “I want a car!”
As for the boys’ Big Brand of Brit Pop, it’s avoided the Strokes malady of being “essentially the same but still good.” Franz Ferdinand have slightly tweaked the neo-Brit-pop genre – mixing in funk, dashes of punk, and a bit of disco – and come out with a sophomore album even more confident and hungry for glory than their debut. Whether it’s better or not is a bit of a dodgy question; You Could Have It takes more risks than its predecessor, and so its returns aren’t as evenly solid as the group’s self-titled debut. But what it lacks in perfect consistency it more than makes up for with many of those "special" moments.
Rich Costey’s production facilitates those rousing moments perfectly; his even balancing of guitars and bass and slightly louder percussion allow the band’s rhythmic thunder to fully resonate, while keeping their enormous hooks immediate. The band fulfill the promise of their debut by writing songs so tight and gut-punching that the material on their debut can sound nearly tame by comparison.
The number of fantastic guitar hooks that they conjure in highlights like “The Fallen,” “Do You Want To,” “What You Meant,” and “I’m Your Villain,” is improbable given each of those songs’ brief running time. Additionally, the group packs in an impressive amount of rhythm and pacing shifting within their songs, crafting an urgent, seamless dynamism to drive their bloodthirsty charges. In “I’m Your Villain,” a sudden punk drive in the middle of the song tears out of the gate on roaring guitar-work and crashes headlong into a reiteration of the band’s first hooks, which then evolves into a terrific climax.
Interspersed within those slightly more traditional tracks are hellishly energetic punked out rollickers – “Evil and a Heathen” barrels through its verses and choruses, hits a bridge like a time-bomb, and then supernovas into a surge of bass, sick drum fills, and Kapranos’s howls. But more interesting are the softer moments that Franz Ferdinand sprinkle throughout the album; “Walk Away” is a sublime work of gentle melodic beauty, bearing out lovely lyrics (“I am cold / Yes I’m cold / But not as cold as you are / I love the sound of you walking away…”) on equally lovely, clean guitar work. And tracks “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” and “Fade Together,” mix the Beatles and the Walkmen for unexpectedly and rewardingly ethereal song structures.
As if to dispel any notion that they may be settling, the group finish on a fascinating note: “Outsiders” mingles electronic keyboard embellishments with funk guitars, staccato bass, and pattering percussion, as a kind of nod to the styles that the band have been able to so aptly integrate. But then it gradually shifts into a haunting, Interpol-ian rush before its final verse iteration, as if the group were proving they could do the whole New York scene in one song. And by gum, it sounds like they can. As a final indicator of dedication and promise, “Outsiders” makes it clear how much this band can do, and how well, and what’s more, with an insidiously great amount of personality. But call it an instant Britpop classic? I won’t go that far.