Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better

Emily Tartanella 03/10/2005

Rating: 4/5

You probably want to hate this album. Ever since Franz Ferdinand seized power in late 2004, they've been an unstoppable force. A number one album there, a top ten single here. It's infuriating. Because they're just too cool, too polished, and too good looking. Franz Ferdinand are, in fact, too damn superfantastisch.

Sure, you were considering suicide just to get “Take Me Out” out of your head. And you couldn't help but be fascinated by the dance moves on the “Dark of the Matinee” video. Maybe you finally questioned your sexuality while Mr. Kapranos crooned “Michael.” Franz Ferdinand was an overpowering album, brilliant and fun and interesting. So wouldn't it be perfect schadenfreude if You Could Have It So Much Better was a terrible album? Wouldn't it be great to declare the end of the Franz?

Well, you can't. You Could Have it So Much Better is phenomenal; richer and more complex than its predecessor. And (almost) just as catchy.

And as if the title wasn't proof enough, opener “The Fallen” shows that this is a very different Franz Ferdinand. As opposed to former opener “Jacqueline,” an ode to workplace boredom, “The Fallen” apparently deals with the resurrection of Christ in the form of a friend. It swaggers in, all muscular chords and smooth vocals, Alex pondering “What's wrong with a little destruction?” Not exactly the topic for your typical pop album. And the sultry moan of “We're all damned,” proves that Franz can still find sex in the most unusual places. Then, of course, there's “Do You Want To.” You're probably still humming it, still thinking of its surreal party-crashing video. The pieced-together get-together lyrics create a drugged-up, dazed atmosphere that pops up again and again. It's perfectly effervescent pop with an edge, like a dancier Hot Hot Heat.

“This Boy” is a glorious rush, a sugar high of a song with a distanced vocal. And any song with the line “I'll have a slice of your mother” is fine by me. It's begging to be placed on dance floors everywhere, with as much shameless self-indulgence as its lead character. Fittingly, it stands in stark contrast to “Walk Away.” Now, perhaps the career of music journalism tends to hyperbole. But I can say, without doubt, that “Walk Away” works as one of the best anti-love songs in recent memory. Over a tango guitar line, it features the immortal lines “The sun won't swallow the sky/Statues will not cry.” The end of love is later compared to Stalin's smile and Hitler's laugh. It's chilling, with a subtle menace made all the more potent by its restraint.

The temporary calm of “Walk Away” is rapidly supplanted by the dastardly “Evil and a Heathen.” Thanks to a throbbing, incendiary bassline by Bob Hardy it becomes one of the album's strongest moments. Evidently this group cannot write a simple love song, and the phrase “your teeth are black…as you place those lips on mine” isn't appearing on Valentines any time soon. It's so ferocious, so potent in just over two minutes that follower “You're the Reason I'm Leaving” comes off as weak and unfocused. It's Gang of Four on acid, but falls into a groove we've heard way too often from this band.

Thank God for the subtle beauty of “Eleanor Put Your Boots On,” a song completely unlike anything Franz Ferdinand has ever done, closest perhaps to mid-era Beatles or their own “Auf Asche.” As usual the lyrics are anything but expected, as Alex pleads “Eleanor” to jump from a Coney Island roller coaster, assuring that “I could be there when you land.” Franz Ferdinand may be contrived, they may be polished, but they are never dull. “Well That Was Easy” tries to inject some dance back into the suddenly mellow album, but fails. It's filler for the most part, entertaining but unmemorable, though the line “I watched you clean the filth of your phone dial/Swallowing things your finger picked up” is reasonably gross. “What You Meant” opens like something off of Blur, which is indeed a compliment. It oozes sophistication, featuring superbly angular guitar chords and some brilliant comments on the modern scene.

“I'm Your Villain,” the longest song on the album at 4:02, has the strut of the Stones and the style of Bowie (a rare feat indeed). It refuses to be pigeonholed, and becomes a mix of dance, rock, pop, and funk. So not bad at all. And an anthem for the modern age even sneaks in through “You Could Have it So Much Better.” The title track smolders, calling upon an apathetic youth to “Get up! Get up!” So they're dissatisfied, after all. It's compelling, necessary, and raises the bar for every band who wants to be “the next Franz Ferdinand.” Strangely, the album draws to a close with the anticlimactic punch of “Fade Together” and “Outsiders.” The former, a slight acoustic ballad that (again) apes the Beatles, the latter an enjoyable disco romp. “Fade Together” is quite surprisingly pretty, but feels out of place crammed between some of the loudest numbers on the CD. “Outsiders,” a paean to, well, outsiders, has an edge and presence that lets it escape the seeming banality of the lyrics.

So, let's review. Violence? (“The Fallen,” “Evil and a Heathen”) Sex?(“Do You Want To?,” “This Boy”) Drugs?(“Well That Was Easy” “What You Meant” “Outsiders”) Suicide? (“Eleanor Put Your Boots On,” “You're the Reason I'm Leaving”) Churchill references? (“Walk Away”) Perfect.

Okay. Not perfect. You Could Have It So Much Better has flaws. It isn't as insatiably poppy, kinetic or enjoyable as its debut. It lags in moments, and perhaps tries too hard to pull off the “mature album.” But, just as Franz are not a typical band, this is not the typical sophomore album. It feels thought-out, sincere, and new. Welcome back, boys.