Franz Ferdinand shot to fame in 2004 when their debut album and signature single ‘Take Me Out’ made them into international stars overnight. The appalling follow up album, You Could Have It So Much Better, derailed their seemingly stratospheric rise. While Tonight (2009) and Right Words, Right Thoughts, Right Action (2013) proved that their initial success was no fluke, neither has re-established Franz Ferdinand as a star attraction.
They may have found redemption with this collaborative album with American art-rockers Sparks. Ron and Russell Mael have been writing and performing together since the '60s. They are best known for their hits, 'This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us', 'The Number One Song in Heaven' and 'When Do I Get to Sing My Way'. Their experimental, progressive, synth based pop is readily identifiable by Russell’s falsetto vocals and Ron’s idiosyncratic keyboard, and toothbrush moustache.
There’s obvious novelty value to a joint venture between a young guitar pop group and a pair of sexagenarian auteurs but modern music history is littered with the execrable leavings of supergroup couplings. Successful alliances between well known bands are few. The Traveling Wilburys were a notable exception. FFS can sit comfortably in such company. Their association is so natural that it is impossible to tell where Franz Ferdinand begins and Sparks ends. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to know whether Kapranos or Mael is singing. Guitarist Nick McCarthy even has a lead vocal on 'Things I Don’t Get'.
FFS is laden with the kind of jerky, spasmodic tunes that are the staple of both band’s individual careers, as typified by lead single 'Johnny Delusional'. 'Call Girl' and 'Dictator’s Son' continue in a similar vein and display the shared sense of humour and love of wordplay that surely helped the group to cohere as a unit.
Slower, more reflective tracks, like 'Little Guy from the Suburbs' and 'Things I Don’t Get', offset the bouncier dance numbers. There are some creepier moments too, such as 'The Man Without A Tan', that will be familiar to anyone who has attended enough discotheques. Shudder!
As is the fashion nowadays, the album is mastered a touch too loud for comfortable listening. Which is a shame, as producer John Congleton otherwise does a fine job in bringing the variety of instruments out in the mix and polishing it to a poptastic sheen. Congleton is the first choice producer in North American artrock at the moment, having recently overseen recordings by David Byrne, St. Vincent and Amanda Palmer.
FFS ends with 'Piss Off', the origin of the collaboration, written and first recorded in 2004 when the two bands initially bonded. It is a celebratory send off to an album that has been gestating for a decade. Playful, pithy, and fun; representative of the album as a whole.