Avoiding the Nostalgia Trap with the New Franz Ferdinand
In the bustling stampede of 2013's high-profile musical comebacks, you'd be forgiven for missing Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish lads behind 2004 mega-hit "Take Me Out."
In the bustling stampede of 2013's high-profile musical comebacks—a masterpiece from Kanye here, a 22-year-in-the-making release from My Bloody Valentine there, well-timed resurgences from the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Justin Timberlake—you'd be forgiven for missing Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish lads behind 2004 mega-hit "Take Me Out."
But they're back—in rare form, to boot—having recently reemerged with the surprisingly agile Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, their first LP in four-and-a-half years. Teeming with disco backbeats and some of the group's sharpest hooks ("You know I hate pop music," Alex Kapranos smirks on "Goodbye Lovers & Friends"), the album updates without upending the dance-rock thump the group trademarked on its 2004 debut. In some sense, the best compliment you can give it is that it feels like the band never went away in the first place.
Not that the hiatus was planned. In a chat with The Atlantic Wire, frontman and guitarist Alex Kapranos explained his band's extended absence.
"We're cursed with the good luck of being popular in quite a few more places than we ever expected to be," the singer boasted. "After we released that last record, we toured for nearly two years. After that, you kind of need a bit of time to get your head together. And we all got up to different things. I've got a wee studio in Scotland; I produced a couple albums of there. Then we got back together again." Kapranos also spent some time immersed in his secret life as a carpenter. "If I ever pack the band in, that's what I'm going to do next," he laughed.
Even after regrouping to record in Scotland and London, the band remained tight-lipped about its fourth LP-in-progress—a marked change from previous cycles. For Kapranos, silence was the logical solution to hype and hyperbole.
"I don't see the point of talking when there's nothing to talk about," he explained. "You either end up mired in hyperbole, because it's literally hyperbole if you're talking about something that doesn't exist yet, or you end up being a celebrity—celebrities always end up talking about themselves." Worse yet, recording Tonight in 2008, the band found that premature press spots only created false expectations: "[fans] would turn around and say, 'Ah, you lied to us!' But this is evolution—one idea leads to another idea."
There is now, of course, something to talk about. The album is out, and it speaks for itself—especially in the U.K., where it has snaked all the way to no. 1 on the Indie Chart.
But for millennials of a certain age, Franz Ferdinand remains irreversibly tied to memories of middle school dances or high school bus rides, sweet sixteen parties or O.C. marathons—that brief swath of time when "Take Me Out" ruled the airwaves and the 2004 New Wave revivalist boom made it across the pond. Much of the audience that made Kapranos and co. a household name were then wearing braces; they are now past college and lapping up nostalgia for the early 2000s. That the band's self-titled, Platinum-selling debut is nearing its tenth birthday only further begs for reminiscing.
But Kapranos insists his band will not be a nostalgia act. Simply put, Franz Ferdinand—the band's most popular album—is not where his attention lies today.
"I only started thinking about when that record came about because people have brought it up in interviews," he said of the looming anniversary. "While I was making this record, I wasn't thinking about it."
But will there be a reissue, a ritual that has become all but obligatory for records of a certain critical weight? "I don't want to make any celebration or be tempted to do a tenth-anniversary reissue or any of that nonsense. I think that's a fine thing to do when you've ceased working as a band. But I'd rather keep moving forward than living in the past."
Which poses a curious paradox, since the band's music has always celebrated bits and pieces from the '80s New Wave—but is the sound hearkening to 2004 or 1984, or both, or neither?
Kapranos, who at 41 is older than most of his fanbase, says the audience contains plenty of newcomers too young for the nostalgia rush: "I usually hang out after [concerts] and people are 17, 18, 19. I'm like, 'Wow, you're pretty young. You weren't even 10 when the first record came out.' That's really refreshing. I love that."
"I'm not trying to disown any of the music that's in the past. I like playing songs on that record," the frontman reflected. "But I like playing them in the context of a longer body of work. I'm still writing songs now and thinking about what we're doing next."
He added, "It can be a rather dangerous form of nostalgic quicksand if you hang around too long."