Bring in the lads

Franz Ferdinand is calling all rockers to stop blubbering and start dancing

Photo Illustration by David Jayne

See photos from the concert here.

The summer of 2004 was a definitive moment for Franz Ferdinand and its brand of dance-rock (or punk-dance or alt-rock or post-'80s neo-prog or whatever-the-hell music). The band not only exploded onto the scene in the United Kingdom, but also washed up on the shores of the United States and, by doing so, capsized pre-existing notions of 21st-century pop-rock.

Even if you didn’t know Franz Ferdinand back then, you were probably already familiar with the music. The band’s massive hit single, “Take Me Out,” saturated television airwaves on the most popular iPod commercial not featuring Bono. A bit of the Pixies and a dash of the Clash, “Take Me Out” was a requisite selection on many critics’ 2004 Top 10 lists, climbed to No. 3 on Billboard’s modern-rock singles chart and was the unofficial anthem of most college dormitories. The song satisfied both music Nazis and undergraduate ass-shakers, and it put the four lads from Glasgow on the map.

In addition to “Take Me Out,” the band’s self-titled first album produced two more singles (including another breakthrough hit, “The Dark of the Matinée") and is considered one of the best alternative-rock albums out of Britain this decade. The boys hadn’t reinvented the wheel or anything, but there was something about their raw guitar-drum sound and conversational lyrics that captured the right vibe at the right moment. Perhaps rock fans were burned out on the malaise of Brit imports like Radiohead, Pulp and Coldplay. Or maybe, in a post-9/11 sense, people had had enough rock-god wallowing and wanted to wear their rock ‘n’ roll on their sleeves—to stop posturing and just dance.

Dancing definitely is on the agenda this Thursday, when Franz Ferdinand stops in Sacramento on its North American tour in support of its 2005 sophomore release, You Could Have It So Much Better. The eclectic show, which the band’s Web site reported sold out at press time, also includes Seattle emo-rock outfit Death Cab for Cutie and U.K. punk-folksters the Cribs.

Back in 2001, when Franz Ferdinand was just an idea being tossed around by four friends in a Glasgow kitchen, bands like Rapture and the Liars (and, before them, Interpol, Blur and Suede) had begun experimenting with new-wave pop sounds. Now, fellow limeys Bloc Party and Hot Chip, Norway’s Datarock and even former Sacramentans !!! have found success by toying around with dance and rock sensibilities.

Franz Ferdinand’s official Web-site bio states that the foursome “liked the idea of music for girls to dance to.” But what makes their songs stand out is how unexpectedly they transition from one beat to the next. This is especially evident on Franz Ferdinand. The album’s opening track, “Jacqueline,” eases into things with a soft, humble melody, but it isn’t long before the band’s trademark rousing guitars start cutting up the supple arrangement into a very Clash-like wave of dance-rock.

On its latest CD, the band experiments with a more sophisticated rock sound but doesn’t altogether abandon the framework laid out on the rookie effort. Though the new album places a stronger emphasis on rock than dance, distinctively catchy riffs have not been swept under the proverbial rug. Just listen to the post-chorus bridge on “Eleanor, Put Your Boots Back On"—a song that singer Alexander Kapranos wrote about his girlfriend—or the intro to the opener, “The Fallen.”

Some critics have said that Franz simply is rehashing past successes on the new album. A track like “Walk Away” is a refined, mature version of Franz Ferdinand‘s “Tell Her Tonight,” but with a more-confident sense of melody and vocalization. The band admits that before recording its first album, it had only played some 30 shows together. By the time the group got around to its latest album, it had played more than 300. Consequently, its style has evolved from rough-around-the-edges, up-tempo guitar rock to a stronger amalgam of each band member’s influence. The result is modern dance-rock for the digital-savvy music consumer.