Scottish post-punkers and former “It” band Franz Ferdinand returned this year after a four year absence with LP #3, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and for the first three minutes and 11 seconds, listeners might suspect they’ve lost their G.D. minds. Where 2006’s You Could Have It So Much Better was brawny and brazen, mightily dishing out sarcastic quips and bashing out chords ‘n drum skins, Tonight tempers down the punk to focus on the post-. Synth and bass lines are pushed up in the mix and the dance beats are more obvious. And for track one, “Ulysses,” that’s just plain jarring. The Franz have always had an affection for repeating phrases a heck of a lot (What’re the words to “Take Me Out” again?) but frontman Alex Kapranos does the song little favors by hissing “C’mon let’s get high!” It’s all a bit processed and goofy.
But then the track ends. “Turn It On” kicks in with a snare fill. The song’s a standard “Hey girl” cut, but stylistically it’s the same as “Ulysses” – atmospheric yet pulsating, spacey yet rocking. It’s a fine line. “No You Girls” follows in those steps with an even bigger, catchier chorus. By this point, it becomes clear that, hey, Tonight is just as good as You Could Have It So Much Better, just different. It’s arguably the closest the band has come to making a straight dance record, filtered through post-acid Beatles and pre-Afro-Beat Talking Heads. It becomes clear, then, that “Ulysses” might have gotten a raw deal on first listen. Sure, it’s not the strongest track on the record, but it still has to bear the brunt of frustrated expectations with that opening slot.
Tonight’s first half plays with Franz’s dance rock sound by emphasizing synthy pop. The album’s second half then pushes that experiment to its farthest reaches. “Bite Hard” goes for a quiet piano line introduction that’s more John Lennon circa Imagine than Gang of Four, and then uses a searing guitar solo for its conclusion. “Lucid Dreams” is the real test, though; cycling through every move Tonight has tried. At nearly eight minutes in length, it’s twice as long as anything else on the album. There’s some of the minimalism from “Bite Hard,” some of the oversexed synth stomp from “Ulysses,” and a bit of the pep from “Turn It On.” Oh, and a four minute psychedelic/electronica mash-up halfway through. Album ender “Katherine Kiss Me” is the final shocker, an honest-to-God acoustic ditty.
If you like Ziggy Stardust Bowie, Thin White Duke Bowie, Talking Heads: 77, M83, Scottish accents, Revolver, and, uh, the other two Franz Ferdinand albums, you should be able to get behind Tonight. It circumvents fans expectations, gives detractors something new to consider, and is generally pleasant to listen to as well.