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August 21, 2013 6:17 pm
The show’s ostensible purpose was to debut Franz Ferdinand’s new album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. Its real purpose went deeper, however. The Scottish quartet need to prove they’re still a going concern, not just to their audience but also – two years after they almost split up – to themselves.
Initial signs were tepid. The foursome – vocalist Alex Kapranos, lead guitarist Nick McCarthy, bassist Bob Hardy, drummer Paul Thomson – tore through their buzzy, snappy songs with customary alacrity, but something was missing: the tautness of old, the sense of purpose, the flamboyance.
New songs were decent enough. “Right Action” was a swinging piece of retro-Brit beat while “Evil Eye” nicely channelled The Clash’s Sandinista! Yet the band dispatched them without full commitment, as though holding something back. It came across as lack of confidence, like a boxer feeling his way back into the ring. There was no bravado in Kapranos’s greeting: “It’s been a while. Well, I’m feeling all right.”
It has indeed been a while. The nine years since their eponymous debut album somehow seem longer – the curse of too much success too soon for a band that briefly seemed set to sweep all before it.
That was when Franz Ferdinand won the 2004 Mercury prize and two Brit awards, sold 3.6m copies and inspired a bandwagon of indie bands to dust down their post-punk LPs and disco moves. But the breakthrough turned out to be their peak. Since then, over the course of two follow-up records, the law of diminishing returns has held sway. Like their New York counterparts The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand appear to have only one great album in them.
Old hits such as “Michael” and “The Dark of the Matinée” predictably whipped up the most fervour at the Electric Brixton. A melancholy image of the foursome as a reluctant Noughties tribute act began to suggest itself – until one particular oldie, “This Fire”, seemed to spark life into the set, its sharp, angular attack punctuated by a nod of the head from Kapranos.
He and McCarthy began to move around with some of the urgency of old, the guitarist gripping his instrument high up his chest like a rifle. New track “Treason! Animals” was choppy and intense while set closer “Goodbye Lovers and Friends” boldly slowed the action down with a woozy farewell letter – an intriguing footnote to the band’s golden past.
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