If It's Not Scottish, It's Crap!

Wack puts this whole Franz Ferdinand thing into context

Glasgow, Scotland, is a well-respected center of music and culture, having birthed such native sons/daughters as Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, the Pastels, Bis, the Delgados and Teenage Fanclub. None of these bands sound alike; the only thing they really have in common is critical acclaim and rabid cult followings.

Where do Scot stars Franz Ferdinand fit in? Well, in some ways, they don't. Their self-titled debut sold multiplatinum worldwide. Their follow-up, You Could Have It So Much Better, will probably sell more by itself than the aforementioned bands' entire combined catalogs. But in sound and pedigree, Franz Ferdinand is a Glaswegian band to the core.

Consider their roots. Vocalist Alex Kapranos and drummer Paul Thomson spent years on the fringes of the Glasgow scene, hanging around such hallowed dives as Nice 'n' Sleazy and the 13th Note. Kapranos and Thomson also were in a later incarnation of the Yummy Fur, a nervous, raucous band that specialized in catchy chants rife with sarcasm and sexual ambiguity. Neither was a songwriter in that band, but consider how the Yummy Fur approach carries over to "Michael," from Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut, and the new single "Do You Want To": Both are absolutely drenched in libido and innuendo.

Franz Ferdinanz has never seen Trainspotting.
Joe Rocco
Franz Ferdinanz has never seen Trainspotting.
Get Yourself KILT
Get Yourself KILT

Examine the trademark Franz Ferdinand sound, anchored by a jittery, shambling, four-square beat. This rhythm can be traced directly to Postcard Records, a cheeky, early-'80s indie label whose flagship bands, Josef K and Orange Juice, crossed the Byrds with wannabe-disco beats. Franz Ferdinand has acknowledged the debt, citing both bands as primary influences -- and FF's success has allowed its label, Domino Records, to rerelease archival goodies by OJ and Edinburgh's similarly minded Fire Engines.

So how has Franz Ferdinand succeeded where its progenitors did not? Perhaps the world has finally caught up to the classic Scottish indie sound. Or perhaps they just sound better built for stardom: confident, brash and world-beating. So Much Better shouldn't slow them down one iota. The album takes the catchiest parts of their debut and adds elements of the Fall ("Evil and a Heathen"), Blur and Village Green-era Kinks ("Eleanor Put Your Boots On," surely about you-know-who from the Fiery Furnaces). Next month, they're playing Madison Square Garden, and since they're skipping Houston on their current tour, that might be your best chance to see them.

With nothing but time on our hands, we at Wack put on our best Scottish burr and took KILT to task for false advertising.

Wack: My name is Seamus and I'm callin' with a complaint. Lookin' at your ads I notice that you call yourselves "Real Country Variety." Which countries might you be refarrin' to? I've been listenin' all marnin' and it all sounds like the rural U.S.

KILT: (hesitant) We play a good variety, we play Texas country and then we play a lot of stuff from, um…yesterday's favorites and today's favorites. And we also have all-request Country Cafe hour.

Wack: That all sounds American, though, not much of a variety of different countries.

KILT: Well, most country music is from America. Shania Twain is from Canada, though. Keith Urban is Australian and he's just huge right now…

Wack: Well, I'm just recently in Houston from Glasgow…

KILT: (interrupting) I recognized your accent!

Wack: Heh. I must admit, the name o' your station got me hopes up a bit, bein' called "KILT" 'n' all.

KILT: (laughs) Ah, well…actually the man who originally got those call letters, the story goes that he was Scottish. I think his last name was MacLinden?

Wack: Ach, so it's no accident! Well, it didn't affect the programming much, I see. I'd've expected with that name, y'know, at least a wee bit o' bagpipes!

The slightly bewildered but affable PR person rang off soon after, suggesting that our pseudo-Scots transplant might find the wheeze of his beloved 'pipes somewhere on the AM dial. Boi-oi-oing! -- Scott Faingold

The Scottish CD Roundup

Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better, Domino

The headline on the Franz Ferdinand feature in the July 30 NME reads: "Our New Album? It's Like Nothing You've Ever Heard!" Well, no. In truth, Better sounds like plenty you've heard, either during the early '80s or in the year-plus since Franz's debut hit these shores. Strangely, though, familiarity only occasionally breeds contempt. Franz's musical recycling policy succeeds for two reasons: the players' preternaturally spastic exuberance, and a near-complete absence of pretentiousness. "Do You Want To" is a case in point. The song's amphetamine rhythms and closing chants of "Lucky, lucky! / You're so lucky!" are undeniably laughable, but in a good way. So, too, is belter Alex Kapranos's wacky declaration "I used to lock myself in your bathroom!" amid "Well, That Was Easy," whose bouncy melody and background woo-woos leave better judgment in the dust. Granted, every time the boys slow down, as they do on "Walk Away" and "Fade Together," the spell of stupidity is broken. But when they're racing at top speed, they nearly justify NME's hyperbole, albeit for entirely different reasons. -- Michael Roberts

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