Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Emily Tartanella 24/01/2009

Rating: 3/5

The last time Franz Ferdinand released an album, way back in 2005, it was a very different world. Bloc Party and the Kaiser Chiefs were still riding on the buzz of their debuts, Kanye West was singing about gold diggers instead of heartbreaks, and Vampire Weekend were presumably still teething. And Franz were the band to beat, with the coolest singles and the skinniest ties.

But in a business where yesterday's Jill Sobule is today's Katy Perry, four years without an album is a very long time. And if their sophomore effort felt rushed, then the progress of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand has been positively glacial. Whether it delivers or not isn't really the issue - it'll sell, after all, because it's Franz Ferdinand. But we can't help wondering, after so much change in the musical world, is Tonight... the album to put the boys back on top?

Yes and no. It sounds terrific, all glitzy production and vintage style, big beats and slick synths. And while it doesn't exactly sound like a comeback album, maybe that's because it doesn't have to. Even after years in the studio, Franz Ferdinand have never really hung up their tight jeans. Since the first chords of Take Me Out, they've been the beautiful boys on a beautiful dance floor, making us move and, occasionally, think. Even if today it's MGMT who are getting the white boys to groove, Alex Kapranos & co. (and their many imitators) still have a place on the charts.

Besides, this was going to be so much more than the difficult third album, the one that put The Strokes on hiatus and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on life support. It was going to be different, bolder, inspired by African beats and techno soundscapes. One can almost envision Kapranos, after years of Wire comparisons and the much-abused term 'angular,' plotting his reggae-spiked revenge.

But after all that bluster and NME fodder, Tonight doesn't sound like Bob Marley vs. Justice- amazing though that would be. Instead, it sounds like, well, Franz Ferdinand. There are some near-perfect moments: Ulysses is an absolute thriller, running hot and cold and sounding like the condensed techno remix of their debut. Menacing, sexy, and subtly strange, it's an early high water mark. One of the best tracks is Bite Hard, hidden halfway through the album and boasting a chorus that the New Pornographers would envy. Most - if not all - of the tracks are backed by a strong rhythm and wry lyrics. But after nearly a decade of catchy melodies and perfect cheekbones, we've come to expect more than that from this band. We've been waiting for, if not revolution, then at least evolution. Instead No You Girls could be a b-side on their debut, and Twilight Omens is an old song desperately seeking a hook.

The hooks are there - but the bloodlust and the bitterness of the first two albums is gone. The cubicle drones and frustrated students of the debut, even the thwarted popstars of You Could Have It So Much Better have been left behind, replaced by lovers who can't love - not because the passion is rejected, but because there's no passion to begin with. This is an album with the right beats, the right hooks, and the right melodies. But it all sort of sounds the same. Which makes the album version of Lucid Dreams miles away from its poppy single release, so essential. It's the first time in a long while that this band has pushed themselves to do something really different. At nearly 8 minutes, Lucid Dreams is a psychedelic stomper, with traces of Metronomy and genuine ambition.

While there are several valiant attempts at a new sound, none of them really stick. The best efforts include the techno blips and bleeps on Live Alone and the thick synths of Can't Stop Feeling. More problematic is Dream Again, which sounds like Blur's more spaced-out moments, or the acoustic Katherine Kiss Me It's a lovely song, like Eleanor Put Your Boots On before it, but it's the wrong note to end an album on. It's worth noting that with their debut, Franz started out with a whimper and ended with a bang. After opening with Ulysses this third album follows a very different path.

Ultimately, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is a good album. But not a great one. And it's not the musical transformation that we've been promised. So enjoy it, dance to it, and ignore the suspicion that four years down the line we'll be writing the same review.