Music review: Why Franz Ferdinand are still the best

Art-pop kings remind the world why they rank among this century’s finest songwriters with a truly scintillating comeback gig

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Franz Ferdinand’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action isn’t the proverbial “stunning return to form” of critical folklore. That would imply they’d ever  lost it in the first place. (2009’s Tonight was a misfire only in that it failed to fire out enough barbs to hook the public imagination). But it’s unquestionably stunning, and certainly a reiteration of what made Franz Ferdinand, the self-styled “New Scottish Gentry”, so essential in the first place: sharpness, sexiness, intrigue, and insanely, preposterously, almost arrogantly great art-pop tunes.

Fittingly, in a venue that was once  named The Fridge, Alex Kapranos looks like he was cryogenically preserved at the precise moment you last cared about him. Cheekbones that could unpick locks, locks that could unpick hearts and minds, teeth that flare and glare with every emphasised syllable, a tigerskin shirt clinging to his ribcage. The things that mancrushes – that crushes, full stop – are made of.

Kapranos and co-frontman Nick McCarthy exercise a kind of controlled kinesis, executing exhilarating co-ordinated leg-kicks like an old-school television dance troupe; Franz’ People. Amid all the dynamism, tiny moments remind you that this quartet ranks among our finest songwriters this century, natural successors to Pulp as purveyors of intelligent and, crucially, danceable indie rock.

Take the extreme-focus detail of “Tell Her Tonight”, the minutiae of flirtation revealed with a zoom lens: “She only licked her lips, but I saw it ....” Or the frenzied glossolalia of “Michael”, words tumbling over themselves in the chaos of lust: “Michael, you’re the boy with all the leather hips/Sticky hair/Sticky hips/Stubble on my sticky lips ....”

And it ought not to need restating that the irresistible “Take Me Out” is up there alongside the likes of “Hey Ya”, “Video Games” and “Milkshake” as one of the immortal, unimpeachable, immaculate pop songs of the millennium.

If you’d forgotten, shame on you. This show was a Post-It note reminder: “Franz Ferdinand. Still exist. Still brilliant.”

An age-old divide is opening up again within hip hop fandom. Twenty years ago, devotees of liberal-friendly, happy-clappy Daisy Age and Backpacker rap looked upon the coming amoral populism of the G-Funk craze with horror and disgust. This time around, the moral poles are reversed, and it’s now the alternative-minded hipsters who dig Odd Future/OFWGKTA, Waka Flocka Flame and A$AP Rocky who don’t flinch when their heroes pepper their lyrics with “faggot”; something the mainstream axis of Jay-Z and Kanye are generally careful to avoid. We’re edging through the looking glass, and the term “alternative hip hop” is increasingly shorthand for sicko gross-out humour and gleefully un-PC rhymes.

The Odd Future collective, in particular, have maxed out the market for the illicit kicks of illiberal lyrics. Taking their cue from the Wu-Tang diaspora, they’re exploiting their current popularity by sub-dividing into duos to send on the road. Earlwolf is the portmanteau pairing of Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler The Creator, the latter notorious for the casual bigotry in his lyrics. But at the risk of sounding like Derrin Zikks, the fictional Rolling Stone critic in The Day Today who opines that rapper Fur-Q’s killings are “obviously ironic”, there’s something childishly innocent about the violence in Odd Future tracks. They talk about grabbing their rifles, but they’re more believable when the weapon of choice is a tennis racket.

Earlwolf isn’t much of a show, in the traditional sense. Two skinny boys in what we’re now meant to call “snapbacks” and baggy whiteys, one DJ who doesn’t even have decks, and a backdrop of a line-drawn caricature combining both their faces. The interplay between their contrasting styles, however, is where the alchemy lies: the way Tyler’s gruff, harsh rasp – a smoker’s voice – almost seems to heckle Earl’s purer tones, nailed by his own wonderfully wrong phrase “breathing easy as bulimics barfing”.

In any case, it’s a duo gig in name only. On this occasion, it’s all about Earl. “A lot of you motherfuckers have seen me before,” Tyler acknowledges, “but it’s the first time any of you have seen this guy ....”

Sweatshirt, real name Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, has his album Doris out this week, and material from it dominates, notably the outstanding “Burgundy”, based on a deliciously loose-limbed piano sample.

By the time “Drop”, Earl’s contribution to Odd Future’s mixtape Radical, gets to the line about a “dyke motorcyclist with a Tyson lisp”, even the most doctrinaire Daisy Ager has to suppress a guilty cackle.

NEXT WEEK Simon has a merry old time with Nine Inch Nails and Leonard Cohen

Critics choice

Thinking person’s indie festival End Of The Road brings Belle and Sebastian, Sigur Ros, David Byrne & St Vincent, Public Service Broadcasting, Savages, Eels, Warpaint and Dinosaur Jr to Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset  (Fri to Sun). Sigur Ros also play their own open-air show at Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire (Fri).