By Aimee Rawlins
Franz Ferdinand is a singles band: Count five for the group’s eponymous debut, four for You Could Have It So Much Better. Whether it’s with â€œMichaelâ€ and â€œTake Me Outâ€ or â€œThe Fallenâ€ and â€œDo You Want To,â€ the Scottish foursome’s standout tracks are unmatched pop brilliance. On its third and latest release, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, the band unveils a record inspired by a raucous night on the town–and everything that comes along with it.
â€œThe idea was to build to a climax,â€ recounts frontman Alex Kapranos, â€œto almost give it the dynamic of a night out, psyching yourself up and going wild and then coming back down and dreaming and drifting off.â€
A concept album about partying? Interesting. Do tell us more, Alex …
I always loved the story of Ulysses when I was a kid–about a guy being a lost and never thinking he was coming home. But instead of getting upset about it, he embraced it and said, “Wow, I’m lost, but this is an adventure.” I had part of the melody originally. When I write songs and melodies, I keep an audio notebook on my computer, and I name the files after the first thing I see in the room. So there’s a piece of music called “Lamp shade,” one called “Rug.” I was sitting in my living room, and the copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses was the first thing my eye hit. That got me thinking about [The Odyssey by Homer]. How old is that story? Four thousand years old? And it’s still eternal.
“Turn It On”
This was going to be on [You Could Have It So Much Better]–a distant version of it. We recorded the second album quickly, and at the time, we felt it was the best song. Of all the songs, that’s the one we were most excited about, and we thought it would be the first single. But the version that we recorded didn’t feel right. So at the last minute, it was pulled off the album.
â€œNo You Girls Never Knowâ€ / â€Katherine Kiss Meâ€
Both of these songs play with how we recall major emotional events in different ways depending on the circumstances. They’re about kissing somebody for the first time. “No You Girls” is sung as if it’s an anecdote, the way I’d tell it to my friends. And the way we tell anecdotes, we tend to elaborate a little bit. You become the hero, and everything is more glamorous than it actually was. “Katherine Kiss Me” is how you would remember the same event if you were recalling it honestly and remembering the awkwardness and how it maybe wasn’t as satisfying as you’d hoped.
I don’t have a classical music background, so when I read about music theory sometimes it spurs me on to write in a different way. I was reading about modes, and I realized you can write in these modes just by choosing what note you start on and restricting yourself to certain notes. So I was going through this experiment of trying to write on just the white keys on the keyboard, and that’s how the melody came about.
In the clubs of ’94, I’d fallen asleep on my hand. They’d write something on my hand or put a stamp on my hand, and it was on my face the next morning. And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone had written their name on your hand, and it was backwards on your face but then forwards on your mirror.’ Something like that would be an omen–and I do love omens.
The theme of the song is sung as if it’s about losing a relationship, but it’s really more about when you make the decision to reject God and decide that God is no longer there. It leaves you feeling extremely vulnerable. It’s almost like admitting that there will never be an answer. There will never be this metaphorical figure who will save you and ride you off on the back of his divine motorbike.
â€œCan’t Stop Feelingâ€
One of the best memories of the recording was just sitting there, and it’s all kind of ridiculous and over the top, and I’m thinking, â€˜Is this cool? Can we use it?’ And then I heard footsteps running down the hall, and the door burst open with, “What’s that? That’s amazing!” And it’s funny because we look for approval from each other in the band. You know something’s good if the other guys like it.
I love the state you’re in when you’re half awake and half asleep and you have some vague control of your dreams. It’s better than any film you could go to or any music. It’s so vivid. So that’s the theme of the song, and it’s quite different from anything we’ve done before. That’s actually the shortest version. The section at the end was originally, like, 45 minutes long, and even though it’s electronic, we didn’t use the processing of the computer. There’s a certain sound of modern records that sounds incredibly two-dimensional when everything’s kept in the computer.
This was a chord progression that came from something [guitarist] Nick [McCarthy] had written, and he didn’t have any words for it. I remember singing “Scooby Doo” over it for a long time. It was originally an acoustic song, but it just sounded too–I don’t know–something like Oasis. We experimented with having lots of layers and then pulling them all back and putting the odd one in with a lot of space around the bass for a natural delivery.