Franz Ferdinand, Picture House, Edinburgh<br>Little Joy, Audio, Brighton

The New Big Thing of 2003 is as tight and thrilling as ever, unlike some of their contemporaries ...
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The Independent Culture

What's in a name? Take the new album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. The use of the present tense is sharply pointed and heavily loaded. But that's not its only meaning. The third Franz album, as you'll discover when it comes out a week on Monday, is a nocturnal thing, the band's most sustained delivery yet on their promise to make "music for girls to dance to" – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

There's no question, though, that the pace of pop history is accelerating. In the wise words of Mark E Smith, time is running and passing like butter dissolving. And my God, don't the early Noughties seem like forever ago? The first years of the millennium – the breakthrough days of the Strokes and the Stripes, the Libs and the Hives – are a nostalgia era already. If you opened a themed club playing "Harmonic Generator", "Gay Bar" and "United States Of Whatever", you'd make a killing.

It's crucial, then, that Franz Ferdinand – 2003's New Big Thing – don't become nailed to a drifting plank daubed "The Past". There's no denying that the rear reaches of the Picture House – a beautifully renovated Art Deco cinema – are populated by mid-twentysomethings who are only here out of nostalgia, and who chatter rudely during the quiet bits of "Walk Away" about how the credit crunch has affected their mortgages. Happily, they're outnumbered and out-shouted by the young ones down the front, whose skinny fists flash skywards during "The Fallen" in assent to the never-more-relevant line "who gives a damn about the profit of Tesco?"

Before Alex Kapranos & Co take the stage, a little voice inside my head says "Don't fail us now, Franz Ferdinand. Don't fail us tonight." In an age when indie rock has descended into cheery cretinism (the Wombats, the Pigeon Detectives), we need them more than ever. There have been times, lately, when it's felt as though it's only British Sea Power and the promise of a Franz Ferdinand comeback that are holding back the collapse of civilisation.

Thankfully, they play a blinder. The still geometrically-cheekboned Kapranos's hushed intro to "Bite Hard" is a tease. Within a few bars, it has launched into a thumping, strutting mod-punk groove, as he delivers the darkly intriguing line "You don't know the pseudonyms I assume, for you..."

The hits – "Do You Want To", "Michael", "Matinee" and, of course, "Take Me Out" (which, even on the trillionth hearing, knocks me sideways) – are punctuated with highlights from Tonight, and the new material more than holds its own. It's a total nightclub record, from the Korg bassline on the new single "Ulysses" to the equally funky "What She Came For" (a cavalcade of chat-up lines like "I've got a question for you: where do you see yourself in five minutes' time?") to the Stooges-gone-disco "Turn It On", and the mood has infected the back catalogue too, with Robert Hardy throwing the bassline from Cypress Hill's "I Ain't Goin' Out Like That" into "40ft".

Tonight, Franz Ferdinand are making music for everyone to dance to. And, unlike the deadeningly predictable career paths of their peers, they've never sold out, never grown beards, never made the serious Americana album with a grainy photo of Joshua Tree national park on the front.

Look at the Strokes, every member already on their fifth beard, their third Hollywood wife and at least their first solo project. Their drummer Fab Moretti, or Fabrizio as he prefers to be known these days, is currently touring with his side-project Little Joy. Normally the side-project is an opportunity for a backing musician to take centre-stage, and it's an opportunity Moretti selflessly shuns.

The first man on stage is Rodrigo Amarante, the sleepy-eyed, stubble-chinned leader of Brazilian band Los Hermanos, who plucks a lazy, laid-back tune on the treble strings and sings something in Portuguese which could comfortably accompany a Latin-American beach scene from The Rum Diary. Only then does Moretti appear, sporting a natty dogtooth-checked suit and side-parted hair that makes him look like Carlos from Interpol, to thank us "for coming out on this cold, cold night". As the name Little Joy suggests, they're a minor pleasure. They're not unlike the Strokes, if we're going to be candid, but the Strokes if they'd been reared on the Mavericks and the Gipsy Kings rather than the VU and the Voidoids.

They're not unpleasant. For example, when Binki Shapiro – maracas player, backing vocalist and Moretti's current girlfriend – makes a musical pun by covering her namesake Helen's "Walking Back To Happiness", or the cutesy, White Stripes-y finale "Brand New Start". But Little Joy's main selling point is that you can gawp at some bloke out of the Strokes while thinking, "Blimey, he used to shag Drew Barrymore". Which, as joys go, is little indeed.

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