Even Better Than The Real Thing?

We're trying to walk the line you showed us, officer, but it's harder than it looks: Franz Ferdinand
Joe Dillworth

Genuine acts like Britney Spears aren't shifting the units they used to; fake bands are in ascendance. Now, I know that just because Britney doesn't play any instruments or write her hits or sing very well, folks usually think of her as inauthentic. But what is more real--more tangible--than bad costumes, truckloads of lights, shrieking fans, and astounding sums paid to songwriters and beatmakers? And what's faker than kids who form a band to be cool? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were Karen O's joke side project until hipsters and the press bought in. Kings of Leon started their band after hearing the Strokes--rather than after hearing, say, Television or the Ramones. For a minute, Brooklyn hipsters listened to something called "electroclash," invented by the man who wrote Ru Paul's hit "Supermodel (You Better Work)." And Jack White thinks he's a badass bluesman! (Just last night at a bar, I started a band called Thirty Eight Year Olds Special, inspired by Rick Rubin and post-millennial flash-in-the-pan rock bands. Once I write some concert previews, we'll be huge!)

Like the Sex Pistols and Butthole Surfers and the Beastie Boys, Glasgow foursome Franz Ferdinand are acting, on their self-titled debut (Domino), like rock stars at a party they crashed. (Actually, the Buttholes just acted like douche bags. But they were still pretending to be a hardcore band.) The party, such as it was, mainly attracted Gang of Four revivalists; the DFA DJ'ed. Franz Ferdinand's smarmy bio makes a mantra out of a molehill, namely, that the boys wanted to "make music girls could dance to," and went about doing it in spite of art-school pretensions and lack of technical proficiency. They dressed slick, talked sassy, and transformed practice spaces--like "the Chateau," a former jail--into discos. They scaled U.K., then American, charts with "Darts of Pleasure" and "Take Me Out." The Strokes, meanwhile, were frequently spotted around NYC's East Village.

That making girls dance should uncritically be considered 1) a revelation, and 2) post-fem cute, bugs me. The one song I can't stand on this borderline great album is "Cheating on You," a revivalist "rock star" (as in the politically incorrect video game company and energy drink) trip if there ever was one: It's got a jaunty riff set off by post-punk guitar slash, and singer-guitarist Alex Kapranos smirks that "it's only love." I find this classically gendered "fun" to be a real bore. At least Jack White casts his me-boy-you-girl affirmations in strangely evocative tyke terms (cf. the grade-school kiss "We're Going to Be Friends"--the "Walk with me, Suzy Lee" one). When fakery starts to sound like treachery, I reach for my CD single of Christina's "Beautiful."

Call "Cheating on You" a bunt. Kapranos and company (bassist Bob Hardy, guitarist-organist-singer Nick McCarthy, and drummer Paul Thompson) swing hard and connect on "Take Me Out," in which Kapranos sends a cutie radar love, claiming he'll die if she doesn't go home with him. Cute, classically so, but swaggering all the same. You only have to hear it over a jukebox once to know it's one of the best return-of-rock singles yet, as good or better than "Maps," "Seven Nation Army," "PDA," and "Last Nite." Of these--Karen O's first ballad, an ode to her now-ex; the White Stripes' predictably macho, defensive declaration of independence; Interpol's thingie that goes "I'm raping all around me"; and the Strokes' nobody-understands-me fit--it's also the only carefree song. "Take Me Out" sounds a little like the circus and a lot like a party, with a big beat and colliding bits and sharp turns from melancholy into exuberance, and above all, drama. Kapranos does sexy so well it's a turn-on to know how hard he's trying; he keeps from shouting but edges out all but the suggestion of feyness, polishing the hook until it gleams.

When country patriots and Puddle of Mudd provide rock radio's only hints of humor, you know the time is right for bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Darkness. Like those unitarded, falsetto-happy Brits, Franz Ferdinand fake an obvious but mostly unappreciated sound and therefore live a dream, with all the woozy weird twists that suggests. The disc's other tremendous song is "The Dark of the Matinée," which spazzes and then lapses into ballad beauty while Kapranos admits to a kindhearted girl that he makes plans to bump into her, likes to talk snootily about clothes, "words," and other people, and escapes into movie-theater darkness and waits, presumably, for her to come make out with him. There's also a part where he fantasizes about being interviewed on BBC2 by Terry Wogan, whoever the fuck that is, and Wogan kisses his ass. It's a teeny bit sad, like all crushes and dreams are, but Kapranos cheers himself by exercising with a technical riff and belting about how, if nothing else, the movies belong to him. Pay no attention to the man behind the projector.

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