Glasgow's favourite sons return...

No one could ever accuse Franz Ferdinand of lacking ambition.

Naming themselves after the archduke whose assassination sparked the First World War, the band mix grandeur and pretension with a shrewd pop touch. Their self-titled debut album didn’t so much light up the charts as turn the sales book into an inferno, while follow-up ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’ came equipped with a stunning arsenal of singles.

But then the trail goes cold. The band retreat to Glasgow, with the Franz Ferdinand citadel surrounded by the cloud of rumour as a thousand lesser acts go screaming up the charts only to fall back in a blaze of mediocrity.

Sitting idle since 2005, ‘Tonight: Franz Ferdinand’ is an album long-delayed. Sessions with the slick pop machine Xenomania ended badly, forcing the group to spend longer on the album than they anticipated. During the prolonged downtime, the band began exploring new influences, adding electro, Afrobeat and ‘60s garage sounds to the studio jukebox.

Opening track and comeback single ‘Ulysses’ encapsulates the drama of the band’s return. Franz Ferdinand emerge from their hiatus with a bass-heavy intro, before Alex Kapranos’ familiar voice hisses and seethes from the speakers. As dancefloor friendly as a handshake with Erol Alkan, it name-checks James Joyce’s groundbreaking novel amid the refrain, “I found a new way”. At times gloriously over the top, it never loses its shrewd pop vision ending in a maelstrom of antique synths being pushed into the 21st Century.

This confusing blend of past and present runs through the throbbing veins of ‘Tonight: Franz Ferdinand’. The gentle African skank of ‘Send Him Away’ rumbles along nicely, almost staining the coffee table with its polite Afrobeat mannerisms. But suddenly the band erupts into a frenetic Fela Kuti-style breakdown - like a circuit pushed to overloading, ‘Send Him Away’ sparks and spasms into life.

Shimmering disco scenery dominates the landscape of this album. Producer Dan Carey recalls the adventurous spirit of the Moroder era, as the band battle creaking antique synths to find their true voice. ‘Twilight Omens’ opens with an almost Daft Punk-inspired riff, before leaping headlong into groovy Roxy Music-style rhythm. This is an album that right from its title down to the last notes is bathed in moonlight, its skin bleached with the glitter of the disco ball.

The album’s centrepiece is ‘Lucid Dreams’, possibly the most stunning and ambitious recording the band have put their names to. The vocals are hidden in the mix, allowing the runaway momentum of the song to gallop ahead of Kapranos. A triumph of Darey’s production skills, ‘Lucid Dreams’ threatens to spin off in almost a dozen different directions, held together by the rhythmic gravity of Paul Thomson’s insistent drum beats. It runs for an epic seven minutes, shattering Franz Ferdinand’s pop framework into a thousand electronic fragments.

Refining and transcending their familiar pop formula, ‘Tonight: Franz Ferdinand’ is the band’s most complete work to date. Worth the wait, and in all honesty better than we could ever have hoped for.

Read the full review in issue 34 of Clash, on shelves January 9th


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