The angular post-punk invasion of the mid-00s brought with it a wealth of trends. Spiky guitars, skinny jeans and asymmetrically floppy fringes were but a few of the tropes associated with bands like Bloc Party, Editors, Kaiser Chiefs, and of course, Franz Ferdinand. Those bands have also crept their way back into the music press’ consciousness as of late with more ahead-of-the-curve fashions. This time it’s nothing to do with dress, appearance, or even how pointy your guitars are sounding these days. Nope, this time around, it’s all about ‘bouncing back’; going back to basics to come back from the brink of turgid third album outings. Albums usually blighted by a worrying trend for experimenting with electronica and dusting an unnecessary keyboard hook over every razor sharp guitar line.
Franz Ferdinand are categorically guilty of this most heinous of ‘crimes’. 2009’s Tonight… saw guitarist Nick McCarthy all but packing in the vintage six-stringers in favour of flashes of synthesized refrains, and while the album did deliver a few killer blows (most notably lead singles ‘Ulysses’ and ‘No You Girls’, which still prove themselves to be favourites in the Franz canon to this day), on the whole it felt undeniably lackluster and in danger of being usurped by its own dub infused remix album. So, perhaps somewhat predictably, it’s up to this latest full length release to offer Alex Kapranos and co. the space to right the wrongs of their previous mistakes.
The first six or so seconds of Right Thoughts… are enough to bring even the most casual of Franz fans to a shivering heap on the floor. The opening and ‘title’ track of the record – ‘Right Action’ – opens with a shuffling tropical break resplendent with Afro-Caribbean soul. “What the hell is this?” you ask, beads of sweat dripping down your panicked brow, afraid that Franz have learned nothing from their dice with Casio keyboard induced death in 2009, and worried that this LP could see a dabbling with anything from Afro-beat to vintage disco. The terror is short lived however, as before the fear has barely even had a chance to register, a snaking guitar line come in that reminds you that hey, Franz Ferdinand probably have a lot more in common with these genres than we give them credit for, as the transition into the main crux of the song passes without complication, never missing a beat or dropping in tempo.
‘Right Action’ is probably the most typically Franz track on the record, and could easily have come from any moment of their peppered past; the stomping drum beat of the debut album, the rollicking pre-chorus that balances wiry guitars on a track that sounds like it might derail and lose control at any moment of You Could Have It So Much Better. It’s all there. The next couple of tracks continue to deliver on this established promise; ‘Evil Eye’ revels in the Bowie-esque funk sex Franz have become so accustomed to delivering, while recent single ‘Love Illumination’ is a fuzzed out Franz-meets-QOTSA rocker. So far so good.
But from that ever so promising start, things head south. Slowly at first, but by the time ‘Fresh Strawberries’ rolls around reeking like a McCartney sized dump on previous Franz cut ‘Eleanor Put Your Boots On’, the guitars have blunted and the pace has been sapped; Kapranos’ once melodramatic vocals being replaced by a monotonous drone on ‘Brief Encounters’. ‘The Expanded Universe’ is Franz’ flaccid take on spacey sound textures, but it comes across more plod-rock than prog, faltering under the weight of its chirping keys. ‘Bullet’ comes the closest to regaining the record’s original spark that was witnessed among the first handful of tracks, but its Strokesy crunch chords can’t quite recapture the gold of those first three tracks.
All in all, Right Thoughts… is a Franz album of two halves. The first in an exciting step backwards, away from the experimentalism that wrought Tonight…, and the second feels like a lackluster attempt to come up with five tracks to fill up and album, after an apparent spark of genius from the Glaswegian four-piece. Perhaps, even after four years, a full length release was too much to ask from the Scots, and maybe a few more years playing sporadic mid-bill festival sets in Eastern Europe would’ve seen a more rounded package come to fruition, albeit after much more of an agonising wait. Right Thoughts, Right Words. Wrong delivery.