While the reviews of Franz Ferdinand’s new album, Tonight, have mostly been laudatory, many have complained that Tonight is more of the same from everyone’s favorite Glaswegians (everyone but me – The Delgados will always be my favorite Scottish band). Meaning more catchy, dancey pop with the occasionally subversive lyric from Alex Kapranos (see You Could Have It So Much Better’s “The Fallen” for lines like “Walk among us/ if you judge us/ yeah, we’re all damned”). I want to get the More-of-Same thing out of the way before we truly begin discussing Tonight, because it’s important to start with the right context. So first off, Franz Ferdinand never promised nor did they indicate in any way that they would shake their sound up much from album to album. No, one gets the feeling that all they ever promised you was a good time. They’ve delivered consistently over the years and maybe you don’t want to shack up with a guy who can only ever promise a good time and not much else, but the good times are good, aren’t they? So if you dismiss Tonight on the grounds that it sounds like their first two albums, I have to ask you if you liked their first two albums. If you didn’t, hey, it’s fair game to say it sounds exactly like two other albums that you didn’t like (An example, yeah? I didn’t like John Mayer’s first two albums. I think they sounded like shit. And I think his recent work sounds exactly the same: like shit. So I can claim “more-of-the-samies” on John Mayer and all’s fair). But, if you did like their first two albums and now don’t like Tonight because it sounds just like the first two, what you really mean is, “Tonight sounds like their first two albums, but I’ve decided that I only want two albums that sound like that, so I’ll be trading Tonight for something different at my local used CD shop.” Or something like that. (Note: this is different than saying an album is more of the same and lavishing a shrugging indifference upon it; for instance, I’m fine with Placebo, but I don’t necessarily give a shit when they release an album. I already own two of their albums and that’s all I need. But I’m glad they make their living making music even though I get the feeling that Brian Molko is the world’s biggest drama queen.)
I’m not arguing that you should like Tonight (let’s be clear: Bollocks! is about what I like and why I like it, not about what you should or shouldn’t like — I report, you decide, and I’m continually amazed that anyone really reads this shit), I’m merely saying that “It’s the same as the other two” is a weak argument against it. Yeah, on first listen, there’s a lot on Tonight that sounds like the first two albums, and I realize that to some people, having a favorite Franz Ferdinand album is like having a favorite Black Keys album (which I do – last year’s Attack & Release) or a favorite Placebo album (okay, I admit that it’s pointless to have a favorite Placebo album), but I say to you now with no hesitation that Tonight is my favorite Franz Ferdinand album and their best work to date.
Tonight is the first Franz Ferdinand album that sets up and consistently executes a mood. Beginning with “Ulysses,” straight on through “Katharine Kiss Me”, Tonight is a long night’s journey into day, “Ulysses” the tune that ushers in a night of drunken carousing about town, the middle tunes tracing the night hopping from pub to pub, searching for Mrs. Right (or Mrs. Right Now, har har) or Mrs. Maybe, and the album winding down through the transition from happy-drunk (“Turn It On”) to morose drunk (“What She Came For” and “Live Alone”) to hangover (“Lucid Dreams”) and ending with Kapranos serenading a woman named Katharine drunkenly in the morning, perhaps sitting on her front stoop with a half-empty bottle at his foot, a six-string in his lap, and a cigarette clinging to his bottom lip for dear life. And through the whole thing, these ersatz Archdukes are tuneful sons of bitches, augmenting their normally jangly guitar pop with some synths, a little more falsetto from Kapranos, and an honest to god rocking out guitar solo at the end of “What She Came For.”
So there are indications of growth on Tonight, though not as much as the band probably sees nor as little as their detractors would claim. Franz Ferdinand has always been a pretty tight band (especially for a pop group), but Tonight reveals a heretofore unseen cohesiveness in both music and theme that is actually pretty refreshing. While I’ve enjoyed previous outings by Franz Ferdinand, Tonight is the only album of theirs that I would regard as truly compelling. Perhaps this is because, my college days not being that fucking far behind me, I can recall nights of (mis)adventure where I thought I was never going home. And I’ve definitely been to parties where I can see “What She Came For” (it was never me, for the record). You start these kind of nights feeling every ounce of your youth – you’re invincible and then, by the end of the night, you’ve got, to borrow from Tom Waits, a bad liver and a broken heart. (Or, if you’re me, you’re drinking with one or two pals in your room listening to Tom Waits and/0r Wilco, knowing with every fiber of your being that those dudes are dead fucking on about whatever it is they’re singing about.)
There are way too many enjoyable moments on Tonight for me to dismiss it as just another Franz Ferdinand album. It has all the stuff I liked about the first two albums without the feeling that I’m listening to a dozen consecutive singles. The only place where Tonight really bogs down is the electronic self-indulgence at the end of “Lucid Dreams,” a moment that has a bit too much of a hard-on for Broadcast (if you don’t know who Broadcast is, I demand you check out Tender Buttons immediately) without the chops to back it up. Still, this is the album I expected Franz Ferdinand to make back when everyone was coming in their pants about “Take Me Out” (I know there are people out there on the internet who would argue for spelling it “cumming,” but they can go fuck themselves until they cum).