October 20, 2005

Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better

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It doesn’t take much to be the biggest band in the world nowadays, mainly since no one listens to rock music anymore. The Rolling Stones and U2 are obvious choices, but both are far too old. You can’t be the biggest band in the world if people – even people who paid over 300 dollars to be there – groan when you play your new songs in concerts. The only reason anyone cared about “Vertigo” was because it was in an iPod commercial. Radiohead is far too indifferent to be the biggest. I suppose this makes Coldplay the biggest band in the world, but – nothing against Coldplay’s music here – that’s pretty lame.

What I’m getting at is that there are times when it feels like Franz Ferdinand (to me, at least) is the biggest band in the world. “Take Me Out” was everywhere in the summer of 2004, mainly because it managed to make the sounds of dance-punk more accessible than the Rapture and Liars could have ever hoped or tried to. It landed itself atop the Pazz & Jop singles poll and the band’s self-titled debut won the Mercury Prize. Then I remind myself that winning critics’ awards does almost nothing toward certifying a group’s mass appeal. It feels like there is considerably less buzz surrounding the release of You Could Have It So Much Better, which bums me out a little bit because I think it easily bests the debut. Franz Ferdinand had some great songs, but the whole thing was saturated with the sound of a band trying to take other artists’ sounds and strike it rich. I would hesitate to call the debut derivative, but I would hesitate even more to call it exciting.

With their success already achieved, So Much Better shows the band dropping its pretenses and making the kind of wacky music that they were made to perform. I’d be the worst critic in the world if I said something like, “Franz Ferdinand are like the Beatles,” but So Much Better sure sounds like it was meant to be the soundtrack of a film like A Hard Day’s Night.

Franz Ferdinand have discovered an acceptable way to sample from their peers and influences – the material on So Much Better comes across more like a cheeky homage than youthful unoriginality. “I’m Your Villain” provides the band’s take on the “Do the Du” bassline, which is fast becoming this century’s version of the “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” riff. “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” makes me wonder if the indie world’s most maligned cliche – that the Shins will change your life – might actually have been true for these guys. I’m worried that not enough people are going to care about this album and I don’t know why. The band members obviously aren’t going to starve to death? But I feel like Franz Ferdinand deserves a major second-album blowup like Coldplay enjoyed three years ago, and it’s almost certainly not going to happen.

Archived article by Ross McGowan
Sun Staff Writer