It’s taken me several listens of Franz Ferdinand’s You Could Have It So Much Better to figure out why it rubbed me the wrong way — what Trent Reznor recently suggested, “All the cool people say they’re good, but it sounds like I’m getting bullshitted by somebody.”
The strange thing was that I didn’t really get this sense with the first album. I rocked out to “Take Me On” and “Michael” as much as the next guy. But with this “Do You Want To” hit single, which is essentially “My Sharona” with a droning drumbeat on repeat, I have to ask: what’s so revolutionary about keeping the signal in the center and then expanding it out to the left and right? These guys have nothing on Pink Floyd’s directional pyrotechnics (or, hell, even Of Montreal’s) and I strongly suspect that anyone listening to this song stoned would be extremely disappointed.
I think I’ve figured out what’s wrong. Franz Ferdinand is Johnny Cash sped up, with a little bit of stark tempo changes for the hipsters in “What You Want” and “Evil and a Heathen”‘s roadhouse feel, in case you weren’t convinced of their streetcred. Alex Kapranos, like Cash, has no voice to speak of. Every one of these songs could be effortlessly growled by someone almost immediately after a lengthy throat surgery session. The unfortunate thing with Franz Ferdinand is that the speed comes at the expense of the soul.
The sterterous snares (louder than Lars Ulrich’s overleveled drums on the Metallica albums; that’s saying something) and the predictable bass work (seemingly unaware of anything other than eighth notes that subscribe strictly to a rhythm line that is not so much meant to be discovered, but is intended as a predictable trope to be memorized and mindlessly danced to) bury whatever melodic inventiveness lies at the root of the songs. This production choice is particularly irksome with “This Boy,” in which some interesting guitar work on the hard left and right channels is buried by a repetitive bass line and drums that are not so much played, but banged in a masupiral-like manner. In fact, I’ll go on record here and suggest that, of all the music released in 2005, Franz Ferdinand’s “This Boy” is probably the worst song anyone could ever fuck to.
But back to Cash. Everyone knows that Johnny Cash is not meant to be sped up, because the idea of a tempo restricted by a savage and langourous feel is one of the things that made Johnny Cash the great performer that he was. It was this quality that allowed him to stretch out his limitations and tap into the audiences at San Quentin and Folsom Prison. Cash’s self-imposed approach, I suspect, was instantly identifiable to the prisoners. It allowed Cash to tap into some rugged outlaw quality that eludes Franz Ferdinand. (Okay, Kapranos, so you went down on a guy and you’re happy to MDMA your sentiments. That doesn’t make you brash or daring. It makes you no different from just about any asshole at a club on a Saturday night.)
The question now is how long will this repetitive Johnny Cash homage will keep these Glasgow interlopers off the dole? There is no question in my mind that Franz Ferdinand is capable of good stuff, but this album is nothing more than a lackluster collection of forced fun and it makes me long for Pavement’s purity or the Fantomas’ bizarre playfulness.
Of course, if Franz Ferdinand’s management wanted to throw the band into a state penitentiary just to see how long that might last, that might be a quick fix too.