“Music that girls can dance to.”
This is how Alex Kapranos concisely described the sound of his then unknown band all the way back in 2003.
Five months later, Franz Ferdinand’s debut album would be released, catapulting the Scottish foursome to the forefront of the Brit indie rock scene, and quickly becoming recognised as a modern classic of the genre.
The record would go on to sell over 3.6 million copies worldwide, win the 2004 Mercury Music Prize, sweep the Hottest 100, cement the band’s riffs and unique sound in popular culture, and contribute hugely to the revival of the post-punk genre.
Not bad for a band that only wanted to make girls dance.
Despite the lead singer and guitarist’s simple aims, the album is much more than just music that you can dance to.
It is the frantic, catchy guitars, imposing drum and bass combinations, confident vocals, and complex, intriguing lyrics that combine to form the wholly unique and, at the time, revolutionary sound of Franz Ferdinand – one that would be constantly imitated, and still influential to bands today.
It all began at a party in 2002, when Kapranos met drummer Paul Thompson and sparked a close friendship. Fellow friend Bob Hardy was taught the bass guitar by the frontman, while guitarist Nick McCarthy befriended the trio after returning from studying jazz in Germany.
The four friends were quickly signed to independent label Domino Records, and released their first EP, Darts Of Pleasure, at the end of 2003, before moving to Gula Studios in Sweden to record the album that would start it all.
Although ‘Darts Of Pleasure’ would also be the first single, it was the now-renowned riff featured on ‘Take Me Out’ that kick-started Franz Ferdinand’s success. It is a riff that would be constantly imitated by an array of bands inspired by the Glasgow-based pioneers.
The smooth, vocal driven track doesn’t really seem all that special – not until the frenetic, up-tempo guitar interjects one minute and four seconds in. From that moment, it was obvious that Franz Ferdinand were onto something special.
The powerful and overtly confident track was the driving force behind Franz Ferdinand’s early and dominant success, but the album is so much more than just ‘Take Me Out’.The smooth, vocal driven track doesn’t really seem all that special – not until the frenetic, up-tempo guitar interjects one minute and four seconds in. From that moment, it was obvious that Franz Ferdinand were onto something special.
‘The Dark Of The Matinée’ has become a mainstay of the band’s live set, and it’s one that fully encapsulates everything that was unique and brilliant about their sound ten years ago, and still is now. The dueling guitars play effortlessly off each other, the drumming is eclectic while still providing a solid foundation, and Kapranos’ vocals are, as always, dominating and attention-grabbing.
The song sees the songwriter walking home from Bearsden Academy in Glasgow, imagining a better life in the future, before eventually being shaken from this fantasy by its own ridiculousness.
The chorus of “You will find me in the matinee / The dark of the matinee / It’s better in the matinee / The dark of the matinee is mine” was originally inspired by Hardy remarking that the dark of a matinee performance was a utopian environment to play in.
The protagonist is eventually appearing on talk shows after finding an abundance of success: “So I’m on BBC2 now, telling Terry Wogan how I made it”. In many ways, Franz Ferdinand are now directly living the utopian, idealistic life of success and fame that they first described almost mockingly in this song.
‘The Dark Of The Matinée’
Kapranos’ lyrics are mysterious and widely analysed, with numerous differing interpretations for virtually every song on the album. This is typified by ‘Take Me Out’ which, depending on who you ask, is either from the point of view of the soon to be assassinated Archduke that the band shares a name with, or a classic tale of unrequited love.
For a band named after a pivotal historical figure, it’s perhaps not surprising that they have garnered a reputation for being history buffs, from the lyrical content, the fact that they perform secret shows under the name The Black Hand – the organisation held responsible for the death of their namesake – and right down to the Russian avant-garde imagery on their album covers.
The historical interpretation is certainly enticing on ‘Take Me Out’ and extremely plausible due to the band’s penchant for providing a history lesson along with impossibly catchy songs.
Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, was assassinated in 1914 along with his wife, the catalyst for World War One. The song could well be from the point of view of Ferdinand, taking place after his wife was shot, and before he was ultimately killed.
After the pain of seeing his wife shot, Ferdinand is begging the faceless assassin to finish the job: “I’m just a cross hair / I’m just a shot away from you / And if you leave here / You leave me broken, shattered I lie”. The protagonist then begs the shooter, desperately stating “Take me out”. But it could just as easily be about a lover bemoaning: “I know I won’t be leaving here with you”.
‘Take Me Out’
It’s a dark subject matter to accompany the overwhelmingly upbeat music, but it is this subtext that assures the band only gets better with repeated listens.
Kapronos lyrics are also sensual and, at times, overtly sexual, especially on debut single, ‘Darts Of Pleasure’. Described by the frontman as “about seduction”, the darts in question are in fact words that hit you. While the song includes lines such as “You can feel my lips undress your eyes”, “Words of poisoned darts of pleasure”, and “I want this fantastic passion / We’ll have fantastic passion”, it’s the final stanza, sang in German, that is perhaps the most slick and impassioned. That is, until you realise what is actually being sung: “My name is super fantastic / I drink champagne and eat salmon / My name is super fantastic”.
‘Michael’ features homoerotic lyrics, with the narrator infatuated by a mysterious Michael on the dance floor, almost whispering, “stubble on my sticky lips” from “beautiful boys on a beautiful dancefloor”.
The singer would later state that it is about two friends of his at a warehouse party in his hometown, saying, “It was a very debauched night and these two friends got it together in a very sexy way”. It’s perhaps a sad comment on the state of society that it was, but this was a brave move from the band, and still would be today, and the casualness and normalcy in the group’s approach to the subject matter proved that along with their music, Franz Ferdinand were well ahead of their time in this regard.
‘Darts Of Pleasure’
Everything about the relatively short 38-minute debut LP is a confident statement of intent, down to the simple and imposing artwork that merely stamps the band’s name and their brand in block letters onto a black backdrop.
Towards the end of the album, Kapranos drawls, “There is a fire in me / A fire that burns” behind another trademark Franz Ferdinand riff, and it’s this fire, this confidence and innate musical ability, that successfully burns across the entire album.
The Scottish outfit are one of those bands that, from the first listen, you can tell exactly what they’re all about. In saying that, they still manage to constantly surprise and intrigue the listener. Their sound has been dubbed everything from intelligent art rock to new wave garage indie, but from 50 seconds into ‘Jacqueline’, it’s obvious that the band have already developed their very own sound. It’s raw while still being refined and polished, it’s catchy without being overly cutesy, and it’s easy to dance to while still having substance and depth.
Put simply, the record was something completely new ten years ago, and managed to bring indie rock music in all its forms to a new mainstream audience. Along with the likes of The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, and The White Stripes, the bone-thumping, imposing riff on ‘Take Me Out’ made indie rock n’ roll cool again.It’s raw while still being refined and polished, it’s catchy without being overly cutesy, and it’s easy to dance to while still having substance and depth.
It was a sound that the band started to gradually move away from in the following years, but is still maintained by the wholly recognisable vocals. You Could Have It So Much Better, coming only 18 months after the debut, saw a step up in production and range, with the introduction of synths and slower, more restrained material. The 2009 release Tonight: Franz Ferdinand saw the band delve into conceptual territory, detailing a night of partying and the morning after, featuring electronic elements and bass heavily, while their latest effort, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, carried on in its predecessor’s footsteps.
Each album has still been mostly positively received, but none have come close to having the immediate, long-lasting effect on an entire genre that the debut did. Franz Ferdinand have suffered greatly from the so-called ‘death of indie rock’, with Brit guitar rock bands in a steep decline, but it says a lot about the band’s carefully crafted and wholly unique sound that they have been able to continue a consistently strong output of music, even with a genre that is apparently falling out of favour amongst the general public.
The ten-year-old record’s effects are still being felt today, and have helped to craft the likes of Kaiser Chiefs, The Zutons, and The Futureheads. The huge, diverse riffs are evident on much of Bloc Party’s work, who have also experienced a similar career trajectory towards more electronic sounds. Franz Ferdinand also proved influential on many other indie rock acts, including Friendly Fires, Klaxons, Kasabian, Editors, and nearly every other guitar rock band that has followed them.
Although it may be a shock that the record is already ten years old, it certainly feels somewhat dated listening to it, but that is more a comment that relates to how often and prevalently it is imitated, and should take nothing away from just how new and revolutionary it was in 2004.
While Kapranos and co may have set out just to make “music that girls can dance to”, on their debut, Franz Ferdinand helped to craft and revitalise an entire genre with a unique, clever, and concise record that is still as important and influential now as it was ten years ago.