Friday, February 13, 2009

Review of "Tonight"

Franz Ferdinand
Tonight ***1/2

It's been a long time since Scotland's Franz Ferdinand released any new music. It's been years since they released the excellent You Could Have It So Much Better, which, ironically, was released a mere 18 months after their acclaimed self-titled debut. Fans waited patiently, estimating that their third album would come out probably around early 2007. Instead of another 18-month period for the new album, fans waited three-and-a-half years for Tonight. The long wait made some Franz fans worried about the band's quality declining.

It turns out that Tonight is no average record, and Franz Ferdinand is not declining in quality. In fact, this album opens up a world of possibilities for their fourth one. Franz is at its most experimental and roughest, and it seems to show what the future has in store for them. Of course, since the band is trying out new melodies and textures, it obviously isn't perfect. There are hooks, but not as epic as "Take Me Out" or "Do You Want To." They also made this one as a concept album about a rough night out. The band still brings their trademark jubilance to the songs, but unfortunately, they are good songs and not great, unlike the previous two albums.

"Ulysses," the album opener, immediately shows us what the band is going for: a rougher sound with somewhat darker themes. It's one of the few songs on the album that exceeds the "good" standard and is actually a really great rocker. "What She Came For" is another one of those great songs with a sugary chorus that ends on a very high note as they get loud and hard. "Lucid Dreams" is arguably the album's centerpiece. It's totally different from the original single released last year. The single version sounded like the soundtrack to a backpacker traveling on the Orient Express. The album version changes the sound and feel of the song, turning a three-and-a-half-minute song into an eight-minute epic. It sounds like it comes from the Nightclub from Hell with a fragmented melody that turns into an experimental dance rock coda, and than transforms into a techno beat. This song is the best example of Franz Ferdinand's experimentation in this album.

The other songs, the "good" ones, have a real David Bowie quality to them. "No You Girls" would fit perfectly on Bowie's Young Americans album, with its catchy chorus and retro keyboards. "Twilight Omens" also has the keyboard as the main instrument, and once again it would be a fine addition to Bowie's '70s repertoire. Even if most of the songs have that feel of Bowie's pop songs, "Dream Again" is like a track from Bowie's album Low, filled with ambience and a muted, fearful sound. Franz Ferdinand has made the best David Bowie album that Bowie never made. Even if it is somewhat of a good thing, it's still a bad thing to say. It's one of the many ironies about the album: it sounds a lot like another artist, but it's still a good album. It's not the band's best work, but it's still better than most of the contemporary British bands that are being over-hyped by the NME, Britain's biggest music magazine.

To add one more irony, this album would probably have been much better if the band had spent more time on it. "Lucid Dreams" may be what the band was trying to achieve, but experimenting on a new sound is very challenging. A band will naturally not want to do too much to alienate old fans, and sometimes if they do it too much, it will come off pretentious and bad. Fortunately for Franz Ferdinand, they have managed to make a good experimental album, close to great, and it brings good fortune to a band who does not seem hesitant to try out new things.

Tougher then a wall of bricks.

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