CD Review of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand: Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Recommended if you like
Arctic Monkeys, David Bowie,
Art Brut
Franz Ferdinand:
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Reviewed by David Medsker


here is an old expression that every band has its entire life to make its first record and 18 months to make the second one, which is why so many bands have such difficulty avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump. In the last few years, a handful of UK bands appear to have the solution to that problem – come up with two albums’ worth of material before recording your debut. The Arctic Monkeys released their first two albums within a span of 15 months, which is positively Beatlesque in today’s market. The Feeling and Hard-Fi also followed up their successful debuts with uncommon speed, and in a more curious move, Bloc Party and the Kaiser Chiefs followed up their sophomore albums with sooner-than-expected efforts.

The band that laid the groundwork for this trend is Franz Ferdinand, who had new material ready to roll even as their eponymous debut was still sending songs to radio. When the band dropped "Do You Want To," the first single from their second (and in this writer’s opinion, best) album You Could Have It So Much Better, they went from kraut-rock upstarts to a legitimate contender for Biggest Band in the World in the blink of an eye. This rise in status makes the pause between that album and their latest, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, look more pregnant than it actually is, and now the band comes face to face with the downside of being so prolific out of the gate. This album is being met with both high expectations and a small sliver of concern, in the form of: what took them so long?

No one had the right to ask that last question – three years and change between albums is the norm for American artists, unless you’re Britney Spears – but after listening to Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, we wouldn’t blame anyone if they had. Something is definitely off here, as if the band has given up their trademark dizzying highs for something more "consistent." This is a nice way of saying there isn’t anything bad on the album, but there isn’t anything great, either. It’s Franz Ferdinand on lithium, with all of the peaks and valleys replaced with nice, balanced middles. Your personal results on whether or not that is a good thing may vary.

There are some moments that stand out above the din. The dub-ish "Ulysses," with its irresistible la-la-la-la chorus, is one of the grooviest things the band has ever done, and the epic "Lucid Dreams" takes dub in a completely different direction, melding the echo-heavy guitars with a ferocious bass keyboard outro (think Queen’s "Radio Gaga," after Underworld was finished tearing it up). The spacey ballad "Dream Again" has the album’s biggest hook, and a hauntingly familiar one at that. Several other songs have neat ideas – the jump from 6/4 to an African 4/4 in "Send Him Away," ramping up to double-time midway through "What She Came For," the minor-key, um, keys in "Twilight Omens" – but are missing something. Is it the execution? A sense of familiarity? A little of both, perhaps.

It stands to reason that a band known for its high-energy songs and performances cannot continue to operate at top speed throughout its career, so you can see why Franz Ferdinand decided to shake things up by slowing things down. It’s not a bad move in theory; R.E.M. did it on Automatic for the People, and made one of the best albums of their career. It all comes down to the tunes, in the end. Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is a fine album, but just that: fine. Damn.

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