The effects of a good rhythm section on rock music have been
well-documented. For all of the jokes about the collective
intelligence of drummers and the skill it takes to play bass
guitar, the backbone they provide for a band is irreplaceable. The
importance of the rhythm section in underground music — where
songwriting and arrangements can get slushy — is especially
pronounced. Indie rock’s recent stabs at dance music have
ostensibly re-established the importance of rhythm in punk
music.

Scottish quartet Franz Ferdinand has already received plenty of
comparisons to the already-faltering “dance-punk”
genre, but they’re more notable for their antiquated
approach: They make rock music the old-fashioned way, from the
rhythm on up. The elastic, buoyant basslines of Bob Hardy and
snapping percussion of Paul Thomson stand out not because of
premeditated genre constructions, but because they serve as a
foundation for Franz Ferdinand’s finely crafted pop.

“Take Me Out” is exemplary of the transformation a
song undergoes once it is subjected to Franz Ferdinand’s
rhythmic juggernaut. Beginning with a minute of vague, dismissible
pop-rock, the track morphs into a roaring post-punk anthem that
both echoes the shout-worthy thrash of Gang of Four and carves out
the imminent tunefulness of Blur. The rest of the album finds a
similar niche. “This Fire” is Ferdinand’s most
anthemic chant, skipping along on heavy bass burbles. “Tell
Her Tonight” is an altogether less serious affair, as
singer/guitarist Alex Kapronos delivers a jerky verse before riding
smoothly into an upbeat chorus.

Some of the comparisons to New York’s dance-punks are
warranted, but the similarities arise more out of content than
aesthetic similarities. The coked-up, disco homage
“Michael” is a memorable barn-burner. The synthesized
organ and vaudeville melody that open the superb “Auf
Achse” reek of a late-’70s dance floor, even if the
chorus pushes the song in a decidedly darker direction. The first
single, “Darts of Pleasure,” is built on a bold,
theatric melody that builds into a glimmering, showboat finale.

The band does have faults. Kapronos’s heavy Scottish
accent is slightly off-putting, and the band’s reputation for
being fashion-conscious pretty boys won’t raise their stock
among the punk crowd. There’s not a weak track on the album,
but there are several tracks — “Cheating on You”
and the closer “40 Ft” — that aren’t
particularly memorable.

Franz Ferdinand paint in broad, majestic strokes, riding their
stellar rhythm section into propulsive, exultant rock music. They
have an ear for cutting, acute melody, but it’s their sharp
arrangements that breathe life into their debut album.
They’re the rare rock band that’s not embarrassed to
sing and dance.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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