Monday, January 26, 2009

Review: Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (* * * 1/2)

Franz Ferdinand have always been a great deal more interesting than the majority of their peers in the crowded party-rock genre. Something about the group's ability to explore and experiment with various pop styles while simultaneously offering healthy servings of cocky, danceable tunes has gained them a legion of converts. The band burst onto the scene in a big way several years ago with their self-titled debut, a critically acclaimed chart-topper that propelled them from near obscurity to stardom. The boys maintained much of that momentum with their sophomore effort, You Could Have It So Much Better, which followed a similar formula and provided even bigger hits, proving that they were anything but a fluke.

It’s been well over three years since then, and the band’s eagerly anticipated third album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, has finally seen the light of day after quite a bit of talk from the group about their fresher, funkier sound and a couple of early sneak-peeks. Opener and first single, "Ulysses," is the first indication of a new approach for Franz Ferdinand, with the group's signature sound underlined by fuzzy electronics and keys. This style is prevalent throughout the record, especially on the dark, ominous "Twilight Omens," the funky "What She Came For," and the eight-minute techno-rocker "Lucid Dreams." The album also includes more standard fare, like "Turn It On" and "No You Girls," but everything feels a little more dressed up this time around.

Aside from a delicate ballad, "Katherine Kiss Me," and the spacey “Dream Again,” this album is tailor-made for Saturday nights. The electronic textures add some needed flair to a sound that might have grown stale the third time around and the band still have a way with melody that’s hard to resist. However, while Franz Ferdinand sound comfortable with most of their experiments, many of the songs lack a certain punch found in their earlier work. “Bite Hard” still has the same old swagger in its step and “No You Girls” has the band’s sexy, trademark groove, but as a whole, the record feels strangely flat after a few spins.

The raw, punk spirit that previously underlined the group’s first two albums has been replaced by a sense of exploration without real direction, and despite all of the fun tricks and clever studio magic, the foundation of Tonight just doesn’t hold up to the band’s own standard. Still, if you came expecting a good time, you're likely to have one; the music is funky and fresh enough to keep fans happy and the band from slipping out of the spotlight.