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Franz Ferdinand
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand Julian Marszalek , January 26th, 2009 08:12

If Franz Ferdinand didn't exist then you'd have to make them up. Bands as perfectly formed as this one seem to roll by on a once-per-generation basis and the timing of their arrival in 2003 couldn't have been better. Given that Britain was hardly likely to throw up a credible riposte to The Strokes' take on rock'n'roll, it made sense for a band from these sceptred isles to draw deeply from the well of domestic influence and history to put a new spin on what could have been a very tired idea.

Yet there they were: tight of trouser, sharp of hair and with the shirts to match, Franz Ferdinand not only looked the part but they sounded it too. As anyone in the garment trade would have told you at the time, these boys were on to a winner. With their manifesto of "...making music that girls can dance to", the Glaswegian quartet served notice on the boorish laddish throwbacks that had become the accepted norm since the Gallagher's knuckle-scraping activities and retrograde homespun philosophies of what constituted rock'n'roll. Here was music that was ready to cross over from the underground to the mainstream with an ease that bordered on the indecent.

You just knew that Franz Ferdinand were doing something right when, as with all originators, they dragged in their wake a mighty quantity of flotsam and jetsam in the shape of the new breed of angular chancers for whom the overdrive pedal, twin humbuckers and a cajones was sheer and utter anathema – as was, unfortunately, an original idea.

Their second album, steeped in constructivist imagery and a work ethic to match, may have failed to scale the heights of its predecessor but in comparison to the slew of Stars in Their Eyes imitators that they spawned, here was a band to treasure and hold close. And then...nothing.

Almost as quickly as they'd arrived, Franz Ferdinand retreated into a shell of their own making, unsure of what to do or where to go to next. Was it a crisis of confidence? A loss of direction or a genuine search for where to head for next? Last year's surprise appearance at Glastonbury's newly-launched Park Stage – ostensibly to road test new material and to remind us of their existence – was heralded by a band giving out their own flyers lest anyone thought it a wind-up or, worse still, had forgotten who the hell they were.

No chance of that; return single 'Ulysses' has proved to be something of triumphant reminder of what made them so fun the first time round; the call to arms ("C'mon, let's get hiiiigh!"), the massive stomping beats that urge a surge to the dancefloor, the lurching synths as they exploring new sounds, it all augers well for the delayed appearance of their third album.

Well, kinda...

Sad to report that Tonight is an underwhelming collection of songs that can't fail to disappoint. That's not suggest that this is a terrible album; it's not but after the tales of working with uber-producers Xenomania and hopping on board the Africa Express, it's not unreasonable to ask for something more substantial than this. What this feels like is the sound of band working on a cocktail of sound that is more akin to a light and bitter than a Long Island Iced Tea.

The much-vaunted move into synthesiser and keyboard territory at least suggests a group that knows which way the cultural wind is blowing, but too often the conceits and delivery feel more like an afterthought than a concerted statement of intent. The extended dance coda of the otherwise acceptable 'Lucid Dreams' feels tagged on and forced. There's a sense of Franz Ferdinand attempting to move into the rock/rave hybrid so wonderfully achieved on Super Furry Animals' live version of 'The Man Don't Give A Fuck' but the attempt is half-hearted and too timid to convince. Similarly, 'Can't Stop Feeling' ends up like a tribute to Spandau Ballet, which is about as welcome as a bailiff on Christmas Day.

More successful is the lascivious 'Turn It On'. Losing none of their trademark fixation with the dancefloor, the production is leaner as Alex Kapranos surrenders to a predatory itch that needs serious scratching. Likewise the louche funk of 'No You Girls' where not for the last time, one-time figure of fun Bob Hardy delivers some swaggeringly bouncing bass work. These tracks make their appearance early on, giving the initial feeling that Franz Ferdinand might be on to something good here.

Alarm bells, however, begin to ring around the time of 'Send Him Away'. Though their time with the aforementioned Africa Express may have left its mark, in a post Vampire Weekend/Yeasayer world, Franz Ferdinand actually feel as they're trying to catch up on lost ground rather than determining the pace.

Franz Ferdinand may be down but they're far from out. They've made an admirable attempt at progression - a concept that's well beyond the reach of any number of schmindie clowns – it's just that they're pulling in several directions at once. This is why it's so hard to fall in love here. The real question is where they will decide to head to next - something that's certainly still worth pondering.