Franz Ferdinand
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

3.5 of 5 Stars

Buying single tracks for only 99 cents on iTunes is a temptation that gets the best of us all from time to time, but Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is a shining example of an album best listened to from start to finish. As a whole, it paints a picture of love lost, loss remorsed, revenge relished and love re-discovered, carving out a complete thematic circle. The songs aren’t as singular as past material like “Take Me Out” or “Do You Want To,” and the album takes Franz in a fresh direction, updating their familiar pulse of sonic energy with a coolly sinister edge.

Leadoff single and album-opener “Ulysses” introduces the decadently gritty sound that prevails throughout the disc. Its heavy beat and minor chords mix with Alex Kapranos’s vocals — a blend of arrogance, aggression and cool — as he snarls lyrics like, “So sinister but last night was wild.” Guttural “ha ha ha”-packed choruses create a perfect barroom ambiance. The song is straight from a ’90s neo-noir movie, evoking images of mysterious and tortured characters in smoky, impious bars slamming down beverages resembling gasoline.

“Send Him Away” grooves with Stevie Wonder-esque keyboard vamps and pulses with not-so-subtle sexual undertones. “Live Alone” keeps the energy high with icy, computerized ornamentation that comes off as more Talking Heads than “Mario Kart.” But the lyrics are a bit of a buzz-kill as Kapranos whines, “Wherever you are / you know that I’ll be here wishing I could be there.” At this point in the movie, cool boy is sitting at the bar wallowing in lovesick sorrow.

The mushy solemnity doesn’t last long. By “Bite Hard,” the denial phase is but a lingering memory and Tonight’s hero is out for revenge. A balladic beginning gives way to resolute drum kicks that beg the listener to find someone to get angry with. And what better way to follow the vengeful pump-up song than spiteful I’m-better-off-without-you anthem “What She Came For?” The venting session warns of a man-eating, hard-ass chick that’s out for blood, culminating in a mosh pit-inducing finale of manic drums, cymbal crashes and power chords.

“Lucid Dreams” lowers the intensity level, numbing the anger with a quality “trip-out” session and doing away with Kapranos’s usual clipped and cool vocal style for a more legato feel. The eight-minute acid trip peaks with an instrumental break at the five-minute mark. A raw vibe oozes from the entire track, perpetuated by abrasive distortion.

The seductively sinister album winds down to a chill and dreamy end with the last two tracks, “Dream Again” and “Katherine Kiss Me.” The closers document the ride home after a well-rounded night of liquor and heartache. “Dream Again” rocks gently, echoing in and out of focus like the blurred lights on a dark, wet New York City street. The haunting tune with a hopeful message leads seamlessly into the stripped-down love song “Katherine Kiss Me.” It features a much more personal Franz Ferdinand than ever before. The simple, honest combo of acoustic guitar, occasional piano and vocals presents a crack in the armor of cool that most Franz material shrouds itself in.

Tonight gives you the feeling that the Brit boys of Franz Ferdinand are way cooler than you are. To put it simply, they definitely wouldn’t sit with just anybody in the dining hall. In fact, they probably wouldn’t be there at all, opting instead to slink in an anonymous doorway, smoking cigarettes with faces that read clearly, “you wouldn’t understand.”

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