With the characteristic brashness that carried them to fame, Franz Ferdinand’s third album, ‘Tonight’ arrives with enthusiastic art in the heart of an especially bleak winter. Their 2004 debut found success through its immediacy and assertiveness, and against our current backdrop of economic and cultural horror, this record charting the highs, lows and petty distresses of Alex Kapranos’ nights out seems aimed at setting a similarly lucrative contrast.
From the bottom up, Franz Ferdinand have nurtured a blaring sense of modernity, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it imperative, which is carried on throughout Tonight and is easily observed in their lyrics. About half the songs here are abstract, second-person demands, with repeated commands such as “Turn it on” or “Bite hard” as choruses. Franz Ferdinand are pushing us to act, embrace something unfamiliar — like this staggeringly original record.
The other half are rambling, tongue-in-cheek personal reflections. These now feature the introduction of some Morrisey-lite uncertainties, such as “I love you, I mean, I mean I need to love,” which, although uncomfortably derivative, have aged considerably better. After two albums of these clumsy lyrical tricks, Franz Ferdinand are at risk of exposing their loud and exciting projection of the future as a merely lukewarm rehash of their own previous ideas.
This has been evaded thus far through the incorporation of ‘retro’ musical ideas: “sure, it’s been done before, but we’re consciously reusing it, so it’s ok”. This time we have more synthesiser, yet the same garage-band guitar loops and white-boy dance beats, giving ‘No You Girls’ a delightful tinge of Girls Aloud, but lead single ‘Ulysses’ a frightening similarity to the new U2 song.
Although at times enjoyable, Tonight is an empty bet, an emperor with no clothes. The difficulty is in realising that it is much worse than it thinks it is.