Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

You Could Have It So Much Better – Franz Ferdinand



Bands, it seems almost too obvious to point out, have personalities (with the notable exception of Keane who, from their name through to their sub-advertising jingle tunes, elude definition. They are the musical representation of blending into the wallpaper). Franz Ferdinand, the band, were it a person, at a party say, would be holding court in the corner, brashly discussing his favourite Russian authors (though also prepared to gossip about the latest edition of Big Brother one suspects) while sipping something ferociously sophisticated from a tastefully kitsch cocktail glass. He would be entertaining, but also well aware of that fact. In short, he would grate on the nerves in less than twenty minutes.

With that judgement in mind, it is with much surprise, and not a little amount of frustration, that I find myself thoroughly enjoying You Could Have It So Much Better, Franz Ferdinand’s second album. That’s the alchemic beauty of great pop music – if you’ve got the tunes, nothing else matters. The personality is still there, arch and self-conscious, but the difference between the first and the second album is that they’ve got the musical muscle to back up the concept.

Having won the Mercury prize, critical acclaim and a huge audience with their first album, this reviewer expected the band to disappear further up their collective colon, unleashing the ultimate artistic statement – a post-modern rock opera glorifying a group of Siberian pastry chefs perhaps – a work that would be diffficult to listen to, elitist and available only to the truly worthy. Instead we have a collection of insistent, hyperactive, immediately memorable tunes jumping out of the box. It’s still angular rock, played by white boys in skinny trousers, but in the place of elitism there’s a ‘top of the pops’ populism. Rather than difficult, it’s (almost comically) instant.

Let’s be traditional and look/listen to the beginning, middle and end. The first track The Fallen, is as good an opening statement as one gets. It sets the tone for the album – which is one where each member of the band is more than holding his own. Drums, Bass, Guitars, and Vocals all have a confidence throughout, aware that they’re adding their own energy and imagination to the song, making it that cliched but vital thing – ‘greater than the sum of its parts’. It’s well crafted, with perceptible gear changes between verse, bridge and chorus but manages to avoid the pitfalls of formula at the same time. Lyrically it breezes by, until you focus on it. It’s a story that outlines “the fallen are the virtuous among us”, mixing violence, depravity, and the trappings of fame. A sample lyric:

“And the Kunst won’t talk to you

Because you kissed St Rollox Adieu

Because you robbed a supermarket or two

Well, who gives a damn about the prophets of Tesco?

Which, in the normal course of things would be pretentious beyond belief, but when knowing its place in the overall song is intelligent and subversive. There’s a perverse delight in knowing that these songs are so intensely hummable that people all across radio land will be attempting to sing-along. More power to them.

And so to the middle. The question of musical plagiarism is a thorny one, depending upon phrases, length, repetition and order of a piece of music, as highlighted when George Harrison was succesfully sued by the writers of the Chiffons 1963 hit single He’s So Fine. The opening sequence of Eleanor Put Your Boots On is, to this reviewer’s ears [for the legal eagles reading], uncannily similar to Blur’s The Universal. Piano and strings open, but then the song takes a different and altogether more satisfying turn. While Blur went for a slow build to crescendo approach (and chose well, in their case), this song is a different beast. The similarities to the Blur song simply make for greater listener satisfaction when the song vears into new territory. It’s about creating and confounding expectations, and making space for itself. Confident songwriting. We’d classify the similarity as ‘fair use’, m’lord. It also shows that underneath the lean guitar driven tunes they can write intelligent slow numbers.

Beginning, middle and end – or almost, because our final song is not, as is often the way, the final song. Do You Really Want To, the first single from the album, is not the closer, but may well be the best tune on the album. It starts with a determined beat driven introduction. “When I woke up tonight I said I’m going to make somebody love me, now I know that it’s you. You’re lucky, lucky, you’re so lucky” (It sounds so natural “when I woke up tonight” – but think about it). It’s uptempo, with all members of the band present, and then all hell breaks loose and suddenly counterbeats, backing vocals, and guitars enter. Electrifying, arty, and, for the final knockout punch, foot tapping.

If you like arty rock there’s plenty here for you. If you detest smart-arse white boys who lack rythm making records, there’s plenty here for you. If you want a record that sounds confident and original, though it slightly galls me to say it, this is the album for you.

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