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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
Pass the Haggis, Punk!
Pass the Haggis, Punk!

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.

GET YOURSELF KILT
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

PASS THE HAGGIS, PUNK!
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, Bettersounds 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

Sons and Daughters,The Repulsion Box,Domino

"Hit me, hit me, hit me, I'm already on the ground," growls Adele Bethel in her bracing brogue at the top of "Medicine," the leadoff track on the third CD from these pleasantly frenzied Glaswegian alterna-psychotics and Franz labelmates. This disc is minimal and varied, equally folky and punky, at times sounding like a meaner and more instrumentally adept answer to Edinburgh's Vaselines (and way more fun than Arab Strap, for whom Bethel once sang backup). The "Regally Used" intro is a straight-up, unabashed rip-off of the Stooges' "1969," which was never a bad thing and isn't about to start being one now. -- Scott Faingold

The Proclaimers,Restless Soul, Persevere

Glasgow isn't the only city in Scotland, you know. There's also Edinburgh, which is the capital and is home to a really big castle, and it gave the world the Bay City Rollers, Edwyn Collins, the Beta Band, Shirley Manson and Waterboy Mike Scott.

And the Proclaimers, who are still trying to live down the smash success of "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" from the Benny & Joon soundtrack. It's a pity most people won't get past that song, 'cause the Proclaimers are one tough and righteous, soulful and smart roots rock band. The Reid twins' latest effort finds them serving up a salute to John Barleycorn with the Pogues-y "I'm Gone," an Everly Brothers-ish and tender "That's Better Now," and even a rustic Scottish booty-call tune on "Bound for Your Love." As always, the vocals are sung in accents as proudly Scottish as Willie Nelson's is Texan, but this record has a much more sumptuous, reverb-laden feel than 2003's lean-n-mean Born Innocent. That album had a couple of the best roots rock tunes of the year; this one's not quite as good as that but still very solid. -- John Nova Lomax

The Zephyrs, Bright Yellow Flowers on a Dark Yellow Bed, Acuarela Discos

Though still partially rooted in American country music, fellow Edinburghers the Zephyrs are a far trippier bunch. And a very good band, too. Bright Yellow Flowers is one of my favorite out-of-nowhere records this year -- a melancholy and autumnal melange of C&W pedal steel, chamber pop string sections, Low-like shoegazer drone and golden-age Pink Floyd psychedelia. Among the standouts: "Hell's Dark Hall," a doom-laden march with touches of trumpet that vaguely recalls both early Velvet Underground and Calexico; the warm breeze of "Ganeesha"; and the ramshackle unnamed bonus track. If you enjoy bands like Califone, Son Volt, Nicolai Dunger and even Super Furry Animals, you'll want to catch wind of these Zephyrs. Play this album soft after midnight while you're drinking alone. -- JNL

Brian McBride, Love Bayou, OTN Production

Scotsman McBride recorded this in Nashville and seems to have an eye toward the U.S. market. His polished blend of country and blues and swampy, bayou-fried visual iconography, not to mention the fact he plays harmonica, pegs him to my eyes and ears as a Scottish Delbert McClinton. And that's about as appealing as mesquite-smoked haggis. It just doesn't work -- McBride doesn't have the swagger, the funk, the accent. If I could sing -- and people tell me I can't, but I still try -- I wouldn't go to Scotland and front a traditional Scottish band. McBride's pretty much done the opposite, with results that are probably not much better than what I would come up with fronting the Battlefield Band. He's got a greasy Deep South funk groove on one tune, and then he sings the word "perfume" as "pair-fume." It just doesn't work. -- JNL

Average White Band,Greatest & Latest, Liquid Records

When I was a baby critic cutting my teeth on the first edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide, I came across the first of what would soon amount to many idiotic Dave Marsh opinions I would have to contend with. In his overview of the Average White Band, he wrote that their amazing affinity for black American music stemmed from the fact that they were Scottish and thus could understand what it was like to be on the ass end of cultural imperialism, what with the English crapping all over them and all that.

Oh, really, Dave? Might want to ask all the slaves who had Scottish masters in America and the Caribbean, all the subjects "administered" by Scots in Africa and India, and all the Native Americans who dealt with Scots in Canada about that one. And if being shit on by London could turn Angus McDuck into Bootsy Collins, how come we didn't have any Welsh analogues? (Other than Tom Jones.) After all, the Taffs always got it much worse than the Jocks…So how come no laid-off coal miners turned themselves into Earth, Wind & Fire? Huh?

Glad I got that off my chest…Anyway, Marsh was right that the AWB did have a tremendous aptitude for African-American music, and African-Americans loved them right back. Hell, they've been sampled more than 200 times.

Sadly, there's not a whole lot to love on Greatest & Latest, which harvests the band's post-1988 material. As it was for virtually all bands of their time and ilk -- I'm thinking of bands like Kool & the Gang and EWF -- the '80s were lean years, both sales-wise and creatively, and most of these tunes are horribly dated. It's weird -- the '80s was perhaps the only decade that got more dated-sounding as it progressed, and much of this stuff features the cannon-shot snare hits, cheesy, often bell-like keyboards, and farty bass that marred the end of that era. A couple of notable exceptions: the nü-jazz remix of "Pick Up the Pieces" is pretty damn good, and two of the three live cuts -- "Oh Maceo" and "In the Beginning" -- are tremendous. The rest is as disposable as all those David Sanborn records you already tossed. -- JNL

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