Franz Ferdinand Sharpens Pop Hooks Before U.S. Concerts

Age is mellowing Franz Ferdinand.

Fans should not fret: the band still rips through the post-punk pop which made its name -- pithy lyrics, incisive guitars and virile beats. Now, there is also an intriguing sense of introspection to the sound.

Franz Ferdinand celebrated the release of its fourth studio album “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” with a sold-out London gig. Demand for tickets meant that fans had to enter a lottery for the opportunity to buy them. They weren’t disappointed, greeting songs both old and new with abandon. Tickets should be easier to come by, if no less desirable, for Franz Ferdinand’s North American tour in October.

The four band members bound onto the stage and crash into new song “Right Action.” For all of the recent European shows, they are as dapper as ever, stylish shirts are neatly tucked, long sleeves rolled up to the elbow. The track’s combination of wry sloganeering and sharp pop hook is classic Franz Ferdinand.

The Electric Brixton set, to take one show, doesn’t shy away from the hits. “Michael” is crisp and dry, igniting like tinder. “Take Me Out” is outrageously entertaining, flitting between frantic pogoing and the chugging groove of ZZ Top at the disco.

There is only so much youthful vigor one can convincingly muster come a certain age. “Take Me Out” is becoming comfortably lairy in its middle-age. “Walk Away” has gained more than a hint of Lana Del Rey melancholy.

Hint of Bowie

More promisingly, on “The Dark of the Matinee” and a clutch of new tunes, Alex Kapranos’s vocals develop a suggestion of David Bowie.

Of those new numbers, “Fresh Strawberries” is buoyed by melodic niceness. The terrible pun of “Treason! Animals” is mitigated by its single-minded groove. “Evil Eye” is corny, lolloping around like something out of the Munsters.

Others sound disappointingly perfunctory. It’s possible that the glam stomp of “Love Illumination” or the soulful bounce of “Stand on the Horizon” have yet to find their live feet and will blossom into set-list favorites over the coming months.

Or perhaps not. “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” is enjoyable. It isn’t an album to set the music world on fire. Within its songs are the seeds of new ideas that, if cultivated, could make the next Franz Ferdinand album a dazzling leap forward. Rating: ***.

Franz Ferdinand is playing across Europe in September before heading to the U.S. and Canada. It also has shows in Australia, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong this year.


What the Stars Mean:
*****      Fantastic
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         So-so
*          Poor
(No star)  Avoid

(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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