Rock: Getting so much better
BEFORE Blur's Alex James starting writing newspaper columns about good cheese, Frank Ferdinand's wonderfully arch lead singer Alex Kapranos was writing dispatches from the gourmet globe for The Guardian in the mid-Noughties. (He even wrote a fascinating book, Sound Bites: Ending On Tour With Franz Ferdinand.)
He wrote stuff about Russian bars in Korea and "medicinal stalls sell pickled ginseng root from jars of sinister fluid, like limbs preserved in formaldehyde. Sweet pumpkin soup and sweet bean paste simmer in cauldrons".
He wrote about being stopped at the Grand Canyon where The Bright Angel Lodge "is made of logs stacked on the edge. 'Are the portions big?' I ask. We're in America. It's a stupid question" and "Our pints of mud-brown Colorado Fat Tyre taste of Cadbury's chocolate and smell of Kraft cheese. Paul [Thomson, drums] always covers his plate with a napkin when he's had enough. It's as if he's laying a sheet over a half-eaten corpse."
The irony, in hindsight, was perhaps that this once-glorious and vaguely post-modern quartet from Scotland was turning into a half-eaten corpse. Prior to which, they were one of the coolest alternative bands on terra firma with alt.hipster guitar-rock tunes like Take Me Out and This Fire lodging in your subconscious. They were part of a new wave of new wave that included the likes of Arctic Monkeys. The act, formed in Glasgow in 2002, won an Ivor Novello Award in 2004, Brit Awards and various NME gongs for their seemingly unending greatness. Their self-titled debut album was an indie -- whatever that means -- classic and their second album in 2005, You Could Have It So Much Better, wasn't bad either, and got into the Top Ten of the Billboard Charts in America.
What could possibly go wrong? Pretty much everything, as it turned out. Their third album Tonight in 2009 was a desiccated clunker. Kapranos was, he told The Observer, "incredibly miserable" during the making of Tonight (he had broken up with girlfriend Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces), adding to The Observer's Craig McLean that ostensibly the joie de vivre that sparked them first to form a band when they were living in a grotty Glasgow squat all those years ago had gone. "It went out when I felt I was working to someone else's schedule or deadline. I'm not naturally the kind of person who works well under those conditions. In fact, my whole adult life before that point, if I'd been in a job where I felt I was under pressure, I would usually just jack in the job. And suddenly I couldn't do that any more. But maybe ... maybe, that's what we did after the third record."
Their fourth album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, mercifully, is a return to form, possibly even their best album.
There is certainly plenty of food for thought from the ex-foodie writer. "We are fresh strawberries/A fresh burst of red strawberries/Ripe turning riper in the bowl/We will soon be rotten/We will all be forgotten/Half remembered rumours of the old," he sings on Fresh Strawberries, doubtless referring to what happened to his band.
Alex sings on closing track Goodbye Lovers & Friends: "This really is the end." But more than anything it is really a new beginning for Franz Ferdinand. Earlier, he sings in his usual over-arch way: "Don't play pop music -- you know I hate pop music." Asked by Rolling Stone, did he really hate pop music, Alex took his tongue out of his cheek for long enough to answer thus: "It's more about context than anything else. It's playing with the idea of being an unreliable narrator as well. I don't know why there's always this presumption that the singer and the voice of the song are the same thing. You never presume that Agatha Christie's a murderess, you know? But when I wrote that, I'd been to a couple of funerals, and I'd been reading about [François] Mitterand's funeral and about how his wife and mistress and mistress' daughter were all there at the same time. What an amazing opportunity to address all these people! And the first thing I thought was, 'Oh, right, as I'm disappearing through the hole, don't play pop music.' I'm being flippant. But often funerals -- especially younger people's funerals -- seem to turn into opportunities for them to inflict their terrible music on their friends for one last time."
For the record, Chopin's Death March is what Alex Kapranos wants played at his funeral.
- Franz Ferdinand play Olympia Theatre in Dublin on Sunday March 23. Tickets €28.40 incl. booking fee go on sale this Friday at 9am from Ticketmaster outlets and www.ticketmaster.ie