Franz Ferdinand, ‘You Could Have It So Much Better…With Franz Ferdinand’ (Domino/Epic)
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for the Owen Wilsons of rock, the guys who look like they’d be hanging out at our houses eating chips and salsa and laughing at terrible local TV commercials if they weren’t, you know, incredibly successful. Franz Ferdinand aren’t blue collar in terms of taste, but with last year’s self-titled debut, they stumbled onto a transcendent averageness — just arty enough, just indie enough, just funky enough, just rockin’ enough to appeal to most everyone, even Kanye West. And more important, just insidery enough to make every one of the million people who bought the record feel like it was their own friends who got famous.
So you likely won’t be alone shouting “Yes!” when singer Alex Kapranos asks whether he can take you “where I’ve never let you before,” on Franz’s sophomore album’s first single, “Do You Want To.” Like “Take Me Out” (and the Beatles’ “Do You Want to Know a Secret”) before it, “Do You Want To” is introduced with a peppy beginning that’s obliterated by a slowed-down hook and lyrics about things overheard at loud parties, such as “Your famous friend, well, I blew him before you.”
Kapranos’ voice is a marvelous wide-eyed sneer, the perfect vehicle for expressing how wonderful he finds everything that bores him, like materilaism (“This Boy”), passive-aggressive people (the title track), and you (“Walk Away”). The latter is a glimpse at how great a post-Smiths MOrrissey could have been had he ever put a decent band together; the song’s faux-Western feel, cemented by swampy guitars and dramatic pauses that let reverb hang like tracer fire, is the most charming eff-you since Moz sang “You’re the One for Me, Fatty.”
It’s almost as much fun as “Eleanor,” Kapranos’ love/hate letter to a woman who has the same first name as his (ex-?)girlfriend, Eleanor Friedberger, from the Fiery Furnaces. In this whimsical, drumless tour of New York City, delivered with the affection only a foreigner could muster fro drab Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Greenpoint, Kapranos urges the lady in question to “take an atmospheric” and leap off various landmarks — the Coney Island roller coaster, Lady Liberty — and let the “jet streams set you down.” He could “be there when you land,” he offers, with what one sincerely hopes isn’t a shit-eating grin.
But mostly, You Could Have It So Much Bettersounds exactly like what you’d expect, with pumping disco beats and lookin’-sharp guitars on track after propulsive track. (That’s not to mention the rock milestone established on “What You Meant”, which manages to use the word feckless– well done, lads.) The songs often bleed into one another, which is why you might find yourself wondering whether a time warp just stole three minutes from your life, or if you were in fact listening to “Evil and a Heathen,” and now you’re listening to “You’re the Reason I’m Leaving,” and you’re still bopping your head to essentially the same beat and a chorus whose words even sound kinda the same.
This normally would be a sign of bad or lazy songwriting, but in the past year Franz Ferdinand probably have learned why business travelers value consistency over novelty — at the end of a long day, you just don’t wanna be surprised. The same approach didn’t work for the Strokes; people noticed when the shock of the new was gone by their second album. But really, who’d you rather hang out with? Franz Ferdinand have personality, and they make music for the end of your long day — a time to drink beers, tease your mates, and make an ass of yourself on the dance floor, or to just sit around, have some chips and salsa, and laugh at local commercials on TV. We love it when our friends become successful.