Review Summary: Back on the horse.
Although lumped in with such where-are-they-now? luminaries like Razorlight and Pete Doherty, Scottish group Franz Ferdinand never seemed to align with the rest of the NME
-sponsored early-21st century British Invasion, catchy bursts of post-punk guitar and attraction to the dance floor notwithstanding. The band’s influences - underappreciated ‘80s new wavers Orange Juice, Russian Constructivism, the ambiguous sexuality of disco, etc. – never seemed to fit in with the snarling, egotistical rock ‘n roll that characterized much of their counterparts. In hindsight, “Take Me Out” was a singular event for the band, one unlikely to be repeated no matter how catchy a single like “Right Action” is here. Indeed, the band’s general awkwardness and tasteful yet subversive style hinted at a group with its brain much more interested in filling out the edges of their brittle guitar-rock with shades of dub and art rock, albeit with hearts firmly planted on the dance floor. That unimaginably ill-conceived 2005 Grammys medley with the Black Eyed Peas, Maroon 5, Gwen Stefani and Los Lonely Boys is memorable now more so for how out of place Franz Ferdinand were in the popular milieu of the mid-aughts. Yet as that wave crested and died, Franz Ferdinand just kept trucking on. In this context, 2009’s messy Tonight
was the proper break from critics expecting the next “Take Me Out”; the record’s lukewarm response and the years between it and Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
have allowed Franz Ferdinand to come back on their own terms. There’s no pressure to deliver on a magazine’s promise, to keep exploring the edges of their occasionally limited sound any more than there is to even release another record. The fans will still come to the shows, the commercials will still come a-calling, and the kids will still dance to those delicious riffs and smile knowingly to Kapranos’ ambivalent lyrics.
To call Right Thoughts
a return to form would be a bit of misdirection, as they never really veered off that path. Yet it is easily their most straightforward record since their debut, both in its songwriting and in its mood. The genre dalliances that Kapranos and company played around with on Tonight
and got lost in on Blood
are more carefully pruned and adroitly placed, mere embellishments rather than any general tone: the disquieting synths in “Treason! Animals.”; the romantic Owen Pallett strings on “Stand on the Horizon”; even the bubbly, Kinksian trifle of “Fresh Strawberries” covers up its sickly sweetness with an irresistibly authentic chorus. Occasionally Franz Ferdinand sometimes sound like they’re pulling off a half-assed cover of their better selves, as on the shamelessly derivative “Bullet,” or indulge themselves a bit too much (“Treason! Animals.” is as half-baked and directionless as its clunky pun). But Right Thoughts
is strongest when the band hit that sweet interplay between retro-00s nostalgia, vicious guitar-driven riffs and Kapranos’ wry, wordy lyrics. That title track paired with the relentless groove of “Evil Eye” is the best one-two punch the group has committed to tape since “The Fallen” and “Do You Want To,” while “Love Illumination” plays up the cheese factor but ratchets up the white-boy funk proportionally. It’s tongue-in-cheek and deliciously addictive, a guilty pleasure with a bite to it: the band in microcosm.
ends with Kapranos calling down the curtains on something in “Goodbye Lovers & Friends” – a relationship, ostensibly the band itself – but his lacerations (“Don’t play pop music / You know I hate pop music”) ring hollow. It’s Kapranos the actor here, the genteel frontman who knows how to play with an audience’s expectations, undercutting them with venom and anxiety as often as he draws them out with his particularly preening sort of sexuality. When Right Thoughts
nails this balance is where Franz Ferdinand have always been in their element, straddling the line between emotional depth and dance floor hormones. They hit it more often than not, but there’s still a certain veneer here more difficult to crack than with previous records. The overall gist feels unmistakably like a careful dipping of their toes back in the professional waters, a feeling that only sometimes aligns with their incendiary, tight live show. It’s an album surprisingly even in its delivery, if a little underwhelming in content, somewhat reserved and unquestionably safe. Franz Ferdinand have never had a problem conveying what they mean to say – the problem that Right Thoughts
only halfway solves is getting us to care all that much about it.