In Alex Kapranos‘ own words, Franz Ferdinand‘s fourth studio effort, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, is “the idea of the cynic’s search for optimism and the sceptic’s search for a manual crop up here and there.” He likened it to the title character in Alasdair Gray’s Lanark “growing the hard scales to defend the soft inner-self from the world” and proposed that “maybe [Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action] is about how to shed those scales.”
One of the things that made bands like The Velvet Underground and Talking Heads so great was the fact that they had the balls to grow up. Shucking “the youthful spirit of rock ‘n’ roll,” and singing of mid-life crises and the pale, blue-eyed nature of infidelity.
Likewise Franz Ferdinand, a band that’s always kept tongue firmly tucked into cheek, launch into the next phase of their career: maturity. They trade cocksureness for confidence and part ways with the days of only working when they need the money. And like The Velvet Underground and Talking Heads, they manage to have a whole lot of fun at the same time.
They handle the awkward and the taciturn with stylish and fashionable kid gloves, treating them with all the delicacy that it’s said they need. They don’t nudge them into the deep end and watch them struggle and submerge. Like their songwriting and their production, they’re far more subtle: they show the reticent the fun they’re missing out on.
It’s a coloured spinning wheel of emotional scope. The jaunty melodies of Treason! Animals., the bouncy bass lines of Stand on the Horizon, the cartoonish production of Evil Eye, the electric fandango of Love Illumination, and the sweet, danceable melancholy of Fresh Strawberries, which affirms everything the hardened shell-dwellers were afraid was true: that every fanciful, airborne instance of bliss costs one brutalising tumult.
You’ll enjoy Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action for its songs, each one a catchy, memorable and joyous lark that will defy you not to move or shake something, but you’ll love it for its hearty optimism, its charisma and personality and its commitment to showing you a good time.
An Eleanor Put Your Boots On is noticeably missing, Kapranos no longer possessing the kind of hubris required to urge a New York girl to haul ass to Scotland. Instead, The Universe Expanded traverses the well-plumbed Franz Ferdinand romantic territory of “cork the wine / un-bake the cake/ take the dog back to the RSPCA”, and then contrasts it with a revelation that comes on a wind of duelling, jangly guitars: “I don’t mind losing you this time / I’ll meet you coming backwards”.
In fact the album as a whole is thankfully devoid of any sort of posturing, braggadocio or intellectual rumination. There’s no Jesus allegories or lyrics like “Now here we are at the Transmission party / I love your friends, they’re all so arty, oh yeah”. Exchanging sarcasm for silliness, like cynicism for enthusiasm, is a good trade for anyone. Treason! Animals. has Kapranos declaring “I’m the king of the trees and the animals” over garagey, blue-eyed R&B reminiscent of The Seeds.
Franz end the album in appropriately adult fashion, bidding Goodbye Lovers & Friends. Resigning themselves to the ever-ebbing tide of time and praying that you “didn’t bring flowers” or “write a poem”. They feel no need to stand on ceremony or make verbose ruminations on times past. It’s simply “so sad to leave you”. And it is, but hey “When they lie and say, this is not the end / You can laugh as if we’re still together” because of course “this really is the end”.
Watch: Franz Ferdinand – Right Action