Winning an NME award normally means just as much in my mind as winning a Grammy: nothing. But I couldn’t help but become fascinated with the awards this year, not because I had put money on Har Mar Superstar winning the "Rock ‘n’ Roll Man of the Year" award, but because I was worried about Franz Ferdinand. Not that these art-school Glaswegian chaps couldn’t handle things on their own, but having NME preach your name is begging for a hype-backlash spanking. So when the band walked away not with the "Godlike Genius" award or the "Fuck Me! Award for Innovation" (note: these are actual NME awards) but with the mere "Philip Hall Radar Award," I had to breathe a sigh of relief. Because nothing should stop you from getting Franz Ferdinand’s eponymous debut album. Nothing.
Clearly such hyperboles aren’t going to help the band’s cause, but I do hyperbolize in order to ensure the raves get out before the rants. And there will be plenty for people to rant about: the boys of Franz Ferdinand have art school diplomas, tight pants, crooked teeth, foreign accents, and anything else that could make girls swoon, boys grimace and critics kiss the ground they walk on. What’s to like about them? Oh yes, the music. Almost forgot.
Starting with "Jaqueline," one of the most underwhelming debut-album openers I’ve heard, vocalist Alex Kapranos sings about a girl named Jacqueline as a guitar strums along, lulling you into a comfortable, stagnant zone. Then out of nowhere comes a few quick shots from the bass, and before you know it you’re caught in a barrage of jagged guitar lines and an overwhelming wave of drumming as the vocals spiral into the simply delirious "It’s always better on holiday / So much better on holiday / That’s why we only work when / We need the money."
Building their own Frankenstein sound out of influential UK bands, Franz Ferdinand has their history covered, ranging from Joy Division gloom to Pulp lust, from the Fall’s anxiousness to the Beatles’ harmonies. While this could equal a completely derivative sound, Franz Ferdinand makes its music just to the point of recognition; each track sounds familiar while remaining completely fresh. Unlike bands that become so immersed in one sound and end up creating incredibly repetitive albums (i.e. Radio 4), Franz Ferdinand manages to mix it up while still maintaining a cohesive album. Look for their trademark start and stop to see how you can work the same method in different ways. Midway through "Take Me Out," the song transforms into a full-fledged foot stomp-disco meltdown, and "Come on Home" flits between its stuttering verses and climatic chorus.
The album rarely trips up, with "Cheating on You" being the only sub-par track. It could have easily been replaced by "Van Tango" or "Shopping For Blood," both included on the band’s 2003 EP Darts of Pleasure. With such a strong debut the band could get along just fine with their music; throwing in an electric live show would seem to be an unnecessary bonus. But the band does just that, transforming the lust and passion of the album into struts and shakes in concert. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands in disgust and ask, "What was NME thinking?" And this time, the answer isn’t "Nothing."