Franz Ferdinand could have done much Better

by Beacon Staff • October 12, 2005

Although its World War I-era namesake currently resides there, it remains to be seen whether or not Scottish rock outfit Franz Ferdinand will end up in the history books as well. The band-which will hit the Orpheum Theatre Saturday-took the charts by storm last year with the mega hit "Take Me Out," from its self-titled debut and returned recently with the sophomore release You Could Have It So Much Better.

It is a fitting title, since the group probably could have produced a superior album. But there are some moments on the CD that prove Franz has the potential to be remembered in rock 'n' roll history.

The one thing the band-singer Alex Kapranos, guitarist Nick McCarthy, bassist Bob Hardy and drummer Paul Thomson-will not be recognized for is originality. Franz's specialty is updating old trends and making them relevant again. For example, "Take Me Out" took a riff that should have been played on the radio with the Stones or Jimi Hendrix instead of with Evanescence and Maroon 5.

The group's basic style is borrowed from bands like Gang of Four and early 80s Clash, which took simple punk guitar and bass, added some synthesizer and transformed it into something danceable.

Franz has plenty to live up to with this album to maintain popularity in the fickle music world. Its first album came out just last year, but in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, McCarthy said, "We're definitely like granddads now." Up-and-comers like Bloc Party are gaining popularity and threaten Franz's current position as the post-punk princes.

The leadoff single from Better, "Do You Want To," embodies everything that is both admirable and deplorable about the band's sound. The melody is the type that gets trapped in people's heads for days and could also get them dancing at a Friday night kegger.

The lyrics-which are apparently comprised of statements Kapranos overheard (example: "here we are at the transmission party / I love your friends, they're all so arty")-are funny and will ring true to anyone who has been in Allston for a weekend.

Too often, however, the other tracks sound like watered-down versions of "Do You Want To." Songs like "Well That Was Easy" and "You're the Reason I'm Leaving" are hardly distinguishable from each other, and both are laments of built-up teenage angst.

The chosen influences can also be ill-conceived. The group's foray into surf rock riffs throughout Better is interesting, but "This Boy" is a failure. Although half the song uses the thumping bass and fractured guitars that Franz can deliver, the other half sounds so straightforward musically that it could be substituted with any of the lame, overplayed WB television show anthems that sell millions.

The most interesting moments on Better are the lightly instrumented, slow-tempo ballads "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" and "Fade Together." This is not to say that they are the best songs on the album; instead, they give insight into the band and prove that Franz is capable of something more than getting people on the dance floor. Propelled by acoustic guitar and piano, the two-in particular "Eleanor"-have echoes of the Lennon/McCartney songbook. Franz has also released an acoustic version of "What You Meant," available for download on iTunes, that is superior to its counterpart on Better.

Those songs are important, but the real reason to listen to the band is the infectious beat found in the singles. If Franz Ferdinand can build more of the songwriting chops developed on this album, and bring it to influence high-energy rock songs, then it is possible there will come a time when the band truly could do no better.

Franz Ferdinand will play the Orpheum Theatre this Saturday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 and are available at www.ticketmaster.com, and at the Orpheum box office, 1 Hamilton Place, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

,"Bryan O'Toole"

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