Album Review: Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action

[Domino; 2013]

“Goodbye lovers and friends/ It’s so sad to leave you…but this really is the end”

There’s a lot of this kind of ominous and prophetic language on Franz Ferdinand’s fourth album, making it very easy to interpret Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action as the band’s swan song. Optimistically, and logically speaking it probably isn’t, though, which is good for two reasons. The first is simply the fact that the Glasgow-based band are loved across the world and have become staples of edgy, sharp, and wryly humorous indie rock and seeing them depart would be sad for many people. Since they burst into the public view with their self-titled 2004 album and the copious amount of singles it produced, they’ve often been heralded as one of the few bands from that era that managed to sustain – if not elevate – their level of fame and critical appreciation.

The second reason why we as listeners should be grateful that their new album is (probably) not them bowing out, is that Right Thoughts is such a mediocre, if not dire album for Franz Ferdinand to leave us with. We can only hope they will return in the coming years with a new album that wipes the slate clean and can reaffirm the band as a group of musicians to be respected and applauded. You Could Have It So Much Better goes the title of the band’s second album, and boy oh boy does Right Thoughts make you feel like you’re missing whole chunks of a full experience, like ordering ramen noodles with all the toppings and getting served nothing but miso soup.

“Something has really, really gone wrong”

If Right Thoughts failed because it was Franz Ferdinand by numbers, or because they weren’t quite injecting enough narrative or soul into the work, then it might have been more easily forgivable. In fact, the majority of the songs on Right Thoughts don’t sound anything much like Franz Ferdinand, but instead are easier to pair with generic, lifeless material you might expect one hit wonder bands from 2004 to be producing now. For Franz Ferdinand to hit this slump is saddening and incredibly disappointing. Take “Fresh Strawberries,” which wears its Beatles influence on its sleeve, but none of the charm you might expect is present in the forgettable chorus melodies or the or the limp pedal-effected guitars; or perhaps “Treason! Animals” and its silly effects, misplaced sense of purpose, and tenuous homophonic lyrics. In a different time both might have made for charming, off-the-cuff b-sides, but here the limelight shines on them and they lose any individuality they might have once had.

“Bullet” has plenty of energy, and even gives drummer Paul Thomson a chance to try and put in the legwork, but despite this, it’s still a lesser Franz Ferdinand track. With a vacuous chorus and forgettable verses, it’s the kind of song might expect from a new band on the scene trying to impress an audience who didn’t come to see them. There is other energy present on Right Thoughts, but even when band work in unison, like the latter half “Treason! Animals.” or even the opening track “Right Action,” they still sound like they’re missing an impetus, if not a purpose which made their previous albums exciting and truly enjoyable.

“We’ll part as happy strangers/ From a long friendship/ That grew from/ Such a love”

This disenchantment all comes from expectations. Franz Ferdinand is one of the albums from its era that has stood the test of time, showcasing a band who evidently had a knack for creating hooks and fusing them into strong songs that themselves allowed the band to touch on the life and time around their creations and add spiky humour into the mix. There was a lot at play, but it never seemed like it at the time (it still doesn’t in some respects), and fast forwarding to 2009 and their album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, they were still getting the most out of this formula. However, if Tonight (which this writer still gets a lot of spins out of) felt lacking, it made up for it with experimentation and diversity as the band wandered into dub, electronica and a bunch of other styles.

The experimental mindset is evident in moments of Right Thoughts, but only a select few, and like Tonight, it’s most prominent on the last few tracks. “Brief Encounters” struts along with a something resembling a reggae rhythm, documenting a couple who go along to a key party but without ever finishing off the story. Closing track “Goodbye Lovers & Friends” sounds like it’s building to something big, like the band are trying to play despite the music crumbling away in front of them, but unfortunately resolves on a calm note that disperses all the potential in a matter of seconds.

“Come home, practically all is nearly forgiven”

If Right Thoughts has any sort of saving grace, it’s the opening trio of tracks. Of these “Love Illumination” is quite easily the best, with plenty of groove to boast alongside some brass which punches up likeable riffage. It’s not quite up there with “Take Me Out” or “No You Girls,” but it’s still got plenty of replay value. My fondness of “Evil Eye” might not be matched by everyone else, but its gritty, spiky guitar hits and unexpected lyrics sung in Yorkshire accent play to part of me bowled over by the thought that Franz Ferdinand are just overgrown and gifted kids who can throw you a deadpan glare and make you smile.

Opening track “Right Action” is another example of the band not quite hitting all the marks they could or should, but it’s still got charm with its postcard-inspired lyrics and vocal harmonies (the video helps, too). Again, if Right Thoughts was an album of these middling moments, then it might have been slightly more enjoyable. Rather, it’s easy to come out of listening to the album and thinking it might have been better presented as a snappy three-track EP of the first three songs.

That’s why I hope that Franz Ferdinand will return, and hopefully with more inspired tracks in tow. Lead singer Alex Kapranos recently said he feels closer to his band now than he has ever done, and if it’s mutual love that caused Right Thoughts, then fuck, let’s hope some feuds erupt in the following years. It would be nice to want to reiterate the above quoted line from “Right Action” in years to come, but for the meantime, regarding Right Thoughts, the song’s next line unfortunately rings true: “Almost everything could be forgotten.”