Once upon a time, bands would relocate to London either in frenzied scrounging for fame and fortune, or to further hone and better fit in with a sonic cosmetic carefully chosen from the gummy pages of the NME. Conversely, and indeed mercifully, when it came to Alex Kapranos’ indie barons Franz Ferdinand, the already multicultural ‘Scots’ quickened their pace and slicked up their act once guitarist Nick McCarthy reset his geographic whereabouts to the capital. And four years on from when they were last heard of – the to all intents and purposes humdrum Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, an album which prompted Kapranos to reconsider the band’s cultural relevance altogether – the move ultimately resulted in the conceivably career-defining Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, the release of which next week in turn resulted in tonight’s fan-only date at the Electric Brixton.
A gently dilapidated proto-art deco cinema once furnished with a deceased feline species that dangled from the ceiling, this once grandiose space would perhaps have been better suited to the superficial pomp and show of their previous LP – an album, as I say, epitomised only by its approximation to the sound of glories past fast fading. To paraphrase Fresh Strawberries – a track from their latest that, although not yet ripe for plucking as far as the general, physical-favouring public may be concerned, sounds fresher yet live, as it’s flavoured with a newly accented Beatles influence – they were then growing rotten; seemingly soon to “be forgotten.” However now resurgent, the venue scarcely copes when it comes to properly encasing an album that, when recited live, becomes an ever more commanding proposition still.
There is, however, an insistent sense of déjà vu that cuts clean through the evening, with many of those in attendance sure to have seen the band enthral the nearby Brixton Academy in the astronomical fall of 2004 – the time at which they were arguably last on this sort of form, and long before the iconic London mainstay was besmirched by excessive amounts of O2 branding. Brixton, needless to say, has since cleaned up its act quite remarkably, and has done so with a more striking consistency than Franz’ recorded outpour since. Gig-goers no longer stand with their left hands frozen to necessarily pocketed Nokia bricks, as it’s instead self-portrait central outside the Electric as a swarm of smartphones buzz about its entrance. Fellow members of the contemporary indie hierarchy – most notably The Maccabees, who slump Brixton’s streets sloth-like tonight – have now moved in thus basically, and in short, the place ain’t what it used to be.
But that’s never necessarily a bad thing, for proof of which we needn’t look further than this evening’s so visibly rejuvenated headliners who, hyped up from the high-octane opening barrages of Right Action, exhibit all that same vigour and guile we first fell for now so long ago. A meticulously bequiffed Nick McCarthy’s in among us come the electric climax of Tell Her Tonight, and it’s a tale told when the set is but two songs old. Though if their deviations and experimentations since their much lauded eponymous début have taught them anything, then it’s that the Islington resident is an indispensable asset not only in the band’s efficiency, but also in terms of its overall energy. He prowls and purrs, cuts and thrusts; his slacks hoisted high, he pulls off artilleryman posturing not seen since last December’s staging of Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds, as his Gibson emits mechanistic, breakneck riffs and refrains. He’ll later swizzle the thing over the heads of the front few rows as if it were a scythe cleanly massacring a field of insentient sunflowers and in monochromic paisley, he’s a dark garland away from a noirish impression of Elvis circa Blue Hawaii.
Kapranos plays his part too, of course: he pirouettes and scissor-kicks his way through their hour and fifteen with renewed aplomb, retaining his claim to the continually kitsch, and quintessentially charismatic entertainer. He’s cocky, if still becoming and his presence reenergises anew the inspiriting march of Walk Away. They progress from a lollop to a gallop in flat milliseconds, the room reddening as the heat reaches its peak. Mascara would doubtless bleed abundantly, and likely does from Simon Price’s world-weary eyes.
Though it’s another from their strangely esoteric sophomore, You Could Have It So Much Better, that tonight assumes an exoteric tone as The Fallen prompts enough piston-like, elbow-greased forearm action to likely power a little steel factory. It is, nonetheless, the one thing that above all brings “the idiots joy” as if still energetic, it sounds a tad flat when set against the rest of a fully electrifying show. Its slurred la la la’s called for again, and again, and again, it sounds the stuff of a well-lubricated Christmas party were Cliff fucking Richard on the mic, but it’s not without its merits. It’s universal as, well, The Universal and this much remains true absolutely irrespective of setting: from Glasgow to London; Miami 2 Ibiza, it doubtless engenders the desired effect.
And the overarching outcome is a perfect singalong set dextrously tempered with those more inspiratory stuffs from their now imminent latest. Stand On The Horizon, jerky as most dried beef, tinges Kapranos’ puff chested rhymes (see: “How can I tell you I was wrong?/ When I am the proudest man ever born”) with wistful, vividly littoral musical accompaniment, the English graduate’s literary fancies eventually taking hold. “Oh, the North Sea sings: ‘Won’t you come to me, baby?’” he chimes plainly, his voice stripped of the several layers that buffet his simplistic message on record and if McCarthy felt London calling now some while ago, then Kapranos perhaps negates that sensation, the adopted Scotsman again opting for his now-native Highlands.
A combustible Bullet, meanwhile, proves ever more redolent of The Others’ Stan Bowles oddly enough, with Bob Hardy’s sturdy bass line doubtless to blame but regardless, of the eight to be aired from Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action it reserves one of, if not the best reception of the lot. And given Alex’ lyrics of bullets lodged in grey matter, it’s fittingly tricky to displace the thing from thought once embedded there. Though essentially, the discrepancies between the content of their latest and their every previous, as well of course as the contradistinctions within the record itself, ensure the band are growing as multifaceted as the testicular disco ball monstrosity that dangles so ominously overhead. It’s a makeup that’s as fitting musically, as it is genetically for a bunch brought up all over the shop – from Bradford to Blackpool – with influences to match, but that have never really belonged spatially nor sonically speaking. (That next week’s release was recorded in both Alex’ Scottish studio and McCarthy’s Hackney hideout, the so-called Sausage Factory, seems highly indicative of this twitchy identity crisis of sorts, and Kapranos frequently takes issue with Scottish nationalists who obstinately alter his Wikipedia entry with staunch recurrence so that it reads English, rather than ‘Scottish musician and the lead singer and guitarist of the Glasgow-based band Franz Ferdinand.’ It currently reads the latter.)
He’ll turn the mirror on himself with the agitated, self-effacing glitz of Ulysses – a song that, in spite of its subduedly lewd subject matter, has become one of their numerous karaoke big-hitters – as he struggles a touch with those falsetto highs first recorded of yore, but the song essentially belongs to another time and one in which Franz Ferdinand were far from the band they were wanting to be.
They’ve since become bolder; more self-aware, if with it more self-conscious as well. Their encore is composed of primarily new material, and would have been all but entirely, had the ’80s Matchbox-aping Treason! Animals not been met with such a savagely tame reaction. Jacqueline stands in, but it’s Goodbye Lovers And Friends that’s perhaps their most enlightening piece of the complex puzzle they’ve become. An aptly theatrical funk jolt, it is, as Kapranos decreed all those years ago, “music for girls to dance to.” They don’t that much this evening, but with time and enhanced familiarity they surely will soon enough. And it’s during this that he quips and confesses: “Don’t play pop music, no/ You know I hate pop music.” If many of his scribblings seem to be allegorical, if not removed from personal circumstance altogether, then his introductory couplet sounds nothing if not autobiographical. Somehow or other, their general demographic has become your average Twitter-fixated, Amazon-haranguing, V Festival-approving ‘punter’ and despite Kapranos’ pained cries of feeling “so sad to leave you”, this bespoke outro basically plays out as a thinly veiled eff-orf to anyone anticipating Darts of Pleasure.
However, ultimately, Franz Ferdinand deign to indulge those so impatiently awaiting their more spangly numbers: an eternally incendiary This Fire that, aflame with heady red hues, a shite-hot rhythm section and the type of vociferous call and response typically afforded only David Byrne, has really grown into itself and come into its own. Take Me Out, meanwhile, proves to be just the same as it ever was, and remains absolutely irreproachable. As far as naughties indie goes – and if you care to recall The Others, amongst others, it was pretty drab and ephemeral for the most part, lest we forget – it never went bettered. The prelude; that staccato segue; the unabashedly joyful refrain predictably adopted by alleged ‘lads’ nationwide – it’s all still there, seductive as per. And addled with the ever-refreshing excellence of a crisp premium lager, Kapranos frequently leaves its strap line undone, allowing for the hordes to tie things up of their own accord.
And then finally, as Franz Ferdinand break into the present decade for the very first time, Love Illumination is lucidly exposed as its closest contemporary equivalent. It’s quite brilliant, and comes replete with parodical synth solos and riffs slick as McCarthy’s quiff. These are the Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action alright, and the spaced four-piece have at long last replaced the intentional odd in alien oddity.