Franz Ferdinand release studio album 5 this week, opening with sonic-experimental lead single (and title track) Always Ascending, but how did their previous collections begin? Step back with us to Scotland during the early 00s and all the way to the present day, with some other faces (some new, others familiar) joining along the way. It’s Side One Track One: Franz Ferdinand. Put the needle on it…
1. Jacqueline (Franz Ferdinand, 2004)
“I like the idea that, if we become popular, maybe the words Franz Ferdinand will make people think of the band instead of the historical figure,” the band’s drummer Paul Thomson commented during an early interview, and as he predicted, you’re probably more likely to hear someone bringing up Franz Ferdinand to comment on their new banger or placement on a festival poster, rather than something to do with an assassination and Germany and Austria (and maybe Hungary) and the World War I. Depending on who you hang around with, naturally. Arriving onto the scene in 2003 with their Domino Records released debut EP, a self-titled album arrived the next year, with lead single Take Me Out beginning a love affair with the indie-appreciating British public. Album opener Jacqueline quickly introduced a formula the band have continued to hone ever since; a slow start, quirky lyrics and a quick build to the bulk of the track (often banging), lyrics that are part Glaswegian poetry, part indie-pop disco gold, and sharp jagged guitars that remove them from “guitar band” fodder.
Choice lyrics: ‘It’s always better on holiday, so much better on holiday. That’s why we only work when we need the money.’
2. The Fallen (You Could Have It So Much Better, 2005)
Arriving after their debut faster than you can say “Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria’s assassination”, You Could Have It So Much Better (initially intended to also be self-titled – the online searching public thank you for not sticking with this idea) was not a million miles from their debut (how could they get so far so soon?) but there were hints of influences unheard on their debut, include a Smiths-y sounding Walk Away and a bit of Beatles with Eleanor Put Your Boots On. Do You Want To – with a video starring the band embracing the uniformity of Kraftwerk and the recklessness of The Sex Pistols; not a bad formula to describe their sound – acted as the lead single, but it’s The Fallen that officially opens chapter two on the band’s story. Heavy on the drum hits, quick witted-lyrics that wrap around the John Barry‘s Bond Theme-like guitars, and backing “ooh hoos” begging to be sung back from an audience, Franz Ferdinand were back before they went away, and with added ammo in their arsenal.
Choice lyrics: ‘I never feel pain, won’t you hit me again? I need a bit of black and blue to be rotation.’
3. Ulysses (Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, 2009)
Bringing with him alt-dance expertise, producer Dan Carey steered the band to the outer edges of the dance floor with trippy drips and drops of vintage synths, particularly evident in Can’t Stop Feeling and Twilight Omens. The project reaches its pinnacle half way through Lucid Dreams, when the standard (albeit varied) Franz Ferdinand sound fades, and the whole thing becomes a krautrock/techno mash up – experimenting with tempos and distortion and essentially a massive middle finger to the word ‘genre’. But back to the beginning and opener Ulysses, which also acted as the first single – a radio friendly Franz Ferdinand number if ever there was one, but lurking in the shadows a little more than its predecessors, before revealing itself for the murky musical mob-scene it really is.
Choice lyrics: ‘Well I sit and hear sentimental footsteps, then a voice says: “Hi, so whatcha got, whatcha got this time? C’mon let’s get high.”‘
4. Feel The Pressure (Blood: Franz Ferdinand, 2009)
Not technically a studio album, Blood was released as a bonus disc alongside deluxe versions of Tonight, and as a stand-alone vinyl for Record Store Day in the US. The album saw Tonight re-ordered and reworked, with Dan Carey staying on board to oversee the project. With the guitars all but removed, and the bass left alone to battle futuristic loops and analogue-electronic explosions, this collection was far removed from the well known output from FF, acting like a microscopic close up of the thing that flows through the band’s veins, making them more unique than some might realise. Feel The Pressure (known as What She Came For on Tonight – all names were changed) is an energetic engine to start up the album, and could quite easily be added to a current setlist to shake things up a bit.
Choice lyrics: ‘I got a question for you – where’d you see yourself in five years time?’
5. Right Action (Right Thought, Right Words, Right Action, 2013)
Despite sounding particularly traditional in the Franz Ferdinand (the band) sense of the word, harking back to their early years as apposed to the dark-disco of Tonight/Blood, Hot Chip‘s Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard ensured that Right Action‘s beat was in place, allowing the guitar (and is that a banjo?)-wielding band members to concentrate on keeping their steady machine ticking over. The dance theme is strong with this collection, with Todd Terje producing single Evil Eye, but for the most part it’s frontman Alex Kapranos ensuring that FF4 is all influence-on-sleeves killer (the bluesy riff of Love Illumination is Jack White-y, while Fresh Strawberries is another Macca-esque bit of Beatles), and no Franz Ferdinand filler… Because there’s no such thing, right lads?!
Choice lyrics: ‘This time, same as before, I’ll love you forever.’
6. Johnny Delusional (FFS, 2015)
After admiring each other since Franz Ferdinand‘s debut in Sparks‘ case, and since their first recollection of hearing Sparks in Franz Ferdinand members’ case, the Scots finally teamed up with the brothers Mael following a chance meet at the dentist during Coachella 2013. (There’s their first quirky pop record right there.) They’d threatened to collaborate for sometime, and when the record finally arrived (recorded over 15 days and produced by John Congleton) it was everything you’d expect and almost nothing like a Franz Ferdinand album. Closer Piss Off – sent to Sparks from Franz a few years earlier – encompasses the quirkiness that Sparks owned, and FF may have struggled to pull off on their own, while opener and lead-single Johnny Delusional is by no means safe, but could just as easily be played by Ken Bruce (or, indeed, Terry Wogan a few years earlier) or Zane Lowe over on Beats 1.
Choice lyrics: ‘Some might find me borderline attractive from afar, but afar is not where I can stay and there you are.’
7. Always Ascending (Always Ascending, 2018)
Five years after their last album alone, Franz Ferdinand return with a new line-up and a new lease for life, perhaps influenced by the almost five-decade long career of Sparks and their ability to adapt to survive. Not that Franz Ferdinand‘s new sound is something Bieber might drop. It is age-spanning, genre-defying music at its finest, however; a dance groove carrying an unorthodox subject matter led by friendly vocals and sprinkled with familiar synth patterns. As with other tracks elsewhere on the collection, it’s not hard to imagine Roxy Music putting this out if they’d formed a couple of years ago, with Alex’s vocals becoming a little more dulcet, and the addition of an extra member bringing a fuller sound to the now five-piece.
Choice lyrics: ‘Cirrus caress you, cumulus kiss you, raindrops of crystal whisper “we’ll miss you”.”