It seems only yesterday that I was shopping in HMV along with my family and caught sight of Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled debut album on the shelf. “Take Me Out” had hit its peak the month before and it’s catchy, poppy rock and roll had captured my attention. From hearing it everywhere on the radio I’d managed to learn most of the song off by heart and sang it to my heart’s content when I could. So when I saw this album, and saw there was more on offer from the band, I mustered what I could of my remaining Christmas money and bought it. It was the first album I’d ever bought myself. A simple check of something in iTunes the other day led me to the strange realisation that what seemed only yesterday was actually now over ten years ago. The shock led me to a nostalgiac listen to the album. Looking back on it a decade on, and I’d like to thank myself for buying an album that day.
The way in which the album has appealed to me in different ways through the years is one of the things that makes it so special, I think. When I bought the album I wasn’t even ten years old, but despite the grand themes that some of the songs mentioned (like the references of Stalin, Churchill and Mao Tse Tung in “Auf Asche”), there was still something there for me. The simple guitar driven melodies throughout the album resonated with me. It’s hard not to feel a sense of anticipation at the start of “Jacqueline” before the bass begins and is followed by the electric guitars in a blast of sound. The way the guitars are plucked at the start of “This Fire” with the cymbal being tapped behind it sounded fantastic. Kapranos’ lyrics ranged from the obscure to the generic. In no words could I explain what the chorus of Matinée meant back then, and I still couldn’t tell you what the German at the end of “Darts of Pleasure” is about, but I could understand the opening of “Come on Home” (“Although my lover lives / in a place that I can’t live I kind of find I like a life this lonely”) and other songs just fine. The way the words fell in the song were always unusual compared to the music I was used to hearing on the radio or parents’ CDs. It was new and different. Very few bands I’ve found since have quite managed that feat. As I’ve grown slightly older, there is an amazing depth to the songs that hit me anew when I hear them again. Having this effect makes the songs seem fresh even though they aren’t new to me by any stretch of the imagination.
I’m not sure how they managed it, but every song on the album manages to be distinctive whilst fitting in with the sound that Franz Ferdinand were going for. The songs are emotionally charged but also have the distance that comes with them being rock songs. They’re serious songs that don’t always have to be taken seriously. There are shifts between the melancholy and the upbeat several times without any jarring changes. It’s a masterpiece in that regard. You can feel the ups and downs and enjoy them. Every song on the album is one I enjoy listening to, which definitely can’t be said for every LP in my collection.
Something that I think contributed to my appreciation of the album as a youngster is its length. The whole thing, 11 tracks in all, takes only 38:45 to listen to. With a limited attention span as a 9 year-old, listening to an album would have been an effort of endurance had it been any longer. But Franz Ferdinand was short enough that I would listen to the thing end to end often enough – and leave the selective skipping for when I have a craving for a certain song. That’s not remotely the sort of thing I, or many others, would do in the age of the iPod.
And choosing a favourite song is tough one. “Take Me Out” is the ‘original’ Franz Ferdiand song and the best known of the bunch, but there are many other contenders. “Jacqueline” has a certain quality that makes it dark but still fun (“It’s always better on holiday” is a line that I think every body can agree with). “The Dark of the Matinée” has a great story to it that’s both atmospheric and light-hearted. “Auf Asche” shows the emotion of want so plainly in a way that almost everyone has felt at some point. “Come on Home” does the same. If pushed, I’d go for “Take Me Out” as an easy answer, but I’d always recommend listening to the others as well. These songs brought me Rock of the 21st century, away from the classics of the radio. They’re worth more than a casual footnote when mentioning a song with which they share so many qualities that made it popular.
Simply put, Franz Ferdinand was one of the best rock albums to come out in the noughties, and is definitely up there as one of my favourites ever. While I personally believe each successive album from them has been slightly worse, they’ve become one of Scotland’s most successful recent musical acts. Their success paved the way for a new wave of Britrock, like the Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian and Muse.
If you’ve not listened to it yet, take an hour out of your day and fire up the Spotify playlist below: