Waiting for a new record from your favorite band can be a frustrating affair, especially when that interlude can extend for several years. Sure, it’s easy enough to play albums from the good ol’ days to tide you over, but after a while, it’s only human nature to start craving some new material. When it finally does come, you can only hope that it’s been worth the wait. If not, it just feels like all those hours spent salivating over the prospect of new songs have been a waste.
Enter Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, the newest album from Franz Ferdinand. It’s been a long, long four years since Tonight, the Scottish quartet’s 2009 album. Thankfully, Right Thoughts is another definite check in the ‘victory’ column for the band. It lives up to its name; just about everything is simply ‘right’.
It isn’t so much a progression for Franz Ferdinand as it is a focus of the style that has served them so well in the past. Alex Kapranos and company have obviously spent the last four years honing their particular band of indie-rock, equal parts glittering dance grooves and festival-worthy sing-along choruses, until it’s as sharp as it can get.
“Right Action” is a perfectly giddy, rollicking album opener with a groove that sounds like David Bowie’s “Golden Years” brought into the 21st century. It’s a shame that the album wasn’t released a few months earlier, because “Right Action” could’ve taken the crown for ‘Indie Rock Summer Jam’ pretty easily.
If “Right Action” was the perfect album opener, then final track “Goodbye Lovers & Friends” is its faultless bookend companion. Where “Right Action” is shameless ebullience through and through, “Goodbye” is a far darker track that’s all nightclub slink. They’re both standout tracks for very different reasons.
By and large, Franz Ferdinand have retained the ridiculously catchy hooks that made their previous hits like “Do You Want To” and “Dark of the Matinee” such heavy hitters. From the chorus of “Bullet” to the funky groove on “Evil Eye”, these tracks get in your head and they stay there. As soon as you manage to stop humming one, your foot starts tapping out the bassline on the next. As good as these hooks are, though, it’s a battle you don’t mind losing.
One of the best parts about Right Thoughts is that, for as catchy as the album is, the giddy, fun instrumentals are backdrops for lyrics that sound just as carefree – until you start to peel back the layers and really listen, only to discover that this album is far darker than you first realized.
Take “Right Action”, the track I singled out for its jam-worthy excellence. It sounds like just another song about a guy reminiscing about getting back together with his ex …until you hear lines like “Come home, practically all is nearly forgiven” and “Almost everything could be forgotten” and you realize that this reunion wouldn’t be so peachy keen after all.
Then there’s “Fresh Strawberries”, which starts out on a seemingly optimistic note – and with soothing, melodic instrumentals to match – with “We are fresh strawberries / Fresh burst of red strawberries / Ripe turning riper in the pole”, which sounds about as comforting as you can get. That is, until everything gets a lot more cynical with “We will soon be rotten / We will all be forgotten / Half-remembered rumors of the old”.
As pessimistic as these songs can get, though, that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the album. What Franz Ferdinand really excels at, then, is how they balance the duality of the jaunty indie-rock swagger exterior with the deeper, darker lyrics. Instead of the two halves battling against each other, they’re complements.
The faults of Right Thoughts are few and far between. Some of the tracks’ details feel unnecessary, like the gimmicky spring sound effect that opens “Treason! Animals.” On the vocal side, Kapranos sounds far better when he sings in his chest. When he reaches for his upper register, his voice turns too strident and immature-sounding. Even these, though, are barely blips on the radar.
If there’s one major sticking point, it’s that Right Words feels woefully short, its ten tracks clocking in at only 35 minutes long from start to finish. A few of the tracks don’t even reach the three-minute mark, and that results in a sort of “blink and you miss it” feeling. It’s hard not to wish we’d been given something with a little more substance. Still, those 35 minutes are damn good. Better something short and excellent than overlong and bloated.
When Right Thoughts dropped last week, Franz Ferdinand fans drove themselves into a panicked frenzy because of the album’s last line: “But this really is the end.” For lots of them, yours truly included, that last lyric, along with the overall cynical tone of the album, seemed to hint that this was a sly farewell. Thankfully, Alex Kapranos recently clarified on his Twitter that none of the album’s lyrics referred to the band itself…but if they did? As sad as I’d be to see Franz Ferdinand go, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action would be a fine final record to cap off a career. As it stands though, it looks like we’ll get plenty more ‘right thoughts, right words, [and] right action’ from this band.