Scotland's most successful clothes horses return with their third album. The hype on this suggested a great leap forward, a radical departure from the postpunk/angular/skinny-tied new wave of the first two efforts, but what actually appears to have occurred here is merely that someone picked up a Moog at some point, and the drummer's learned to lay off the high hats just a touch. The end result is very much old Franz Ferdinand in new electro flavor — well-packaged, reasonably catchy, shallow as a puddle of dog piss, and eventually a little boring.
I was rather hoping Franz Ferdinand had grown up a little in the three years since their second album, but they're still content to raise a well-plucked eyebrow archly from the corner rather than engage with the rest of us. Alex Kapranos comes across as the sort of louche fop who probably does quite well with his blazer slung rakishly over his shoulder at an upscale wine bar, but runs the danger of being glassed by someone’s lairy boyfriend down your local boozer. Even his hair is just a little fucking smug.
It's all well put together, if even you get the sense that the band is essentially recycling the same basic chorus to increasingly diminishing returns. There are a couple of stylistic steps forward - last year's single "Lucid Dreams" gets radically reworked as a slow, eight-minute electronic monster with a three minute electronic breakdown that's unlike anything they've done before. Lead-off track "Ulysses" is fun, if completely familiar; the brief banjo-inflected two minutes of "Twilight Omens" are particularly interesting; and "What You Came For" transcends its FF-by-the-numbers tendency with 40 seconds of highly unlikely frenzied guitar soloing right at the end. But there's no real emotion in sight until the last couple of tracks, which belatedly ditch the knowing smirks and the "Take Me Out" tempo for a slower, simpler and more direct approach. "Dream Again" is particularly charming - a simple lyric delivered in an atypically unaffected fashion and a relatively unadorned production, while "Katherine Kiss Me" sees Kapranos addressing the subject directly with lyrics adapted from the earlier "No You Girls" , backed by a simple fingerpicked acoustic guitar and piano. The sequencing undermines the songs however; after the lengthy instrumental coda of "Lucid Dreams" it feels like too little too late.
Here's the fundamental issue. I don't need Robert Smith histrionics or Richey Edwards 4-Realness all the time, and I don't particularly want Bloc Partyesque revelations about how Alex secretly wanted to take his trousers off with his mate down by the canal, but fewer camp chat-up lines and a little more emotion couldn't hurt. Kapranos fancies himself a raconteur in the Jarvis Cocker mould, but he's missing a little of the intelligence, much of the wit and damn near all the humanity. There were signs of the latter on songs like "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" off You Could Have It So Much Better, but there's precious little to be found here. What you end up with is amusing enough, decent background music, fun for the car or getting ready before a night on this piss, but plastic and ultimately pretty disposable. I'm going to take some shit for the following statement, but I'm not sure how this sort of thing deserves any more credibility than, say, Lily Allen, who's capable of being at least as amusing lyrically, has a better eye for detail, and doesn't come across as a self-absorbed, aloof twat.
I’m going to maintain, apparently unfashionably given the current frantic revisionism, that the second album remains the strongest. Tonight: is fun, but pretty slight, and who's really going to give a fuck in a year or two? 7/10.