The most clever, catchy and inventive pop record of the last decade should need no introduction. You saw my interview with Sparks’ frontman Russell Mael elsewhere in these [web]pages and you’ve seen the billboards all over town. The unlikely collaboration of Sparks and Franz Ferdinand works so immediately well that it actually becomes something VERY … well, likely, as if there might be some kind of absurd coherent justice to pop music after all.
If you’re anything like me, you acknowledge that Sparks either invented or improved on EVERYTHING COOL in pop music. And if you’re anything like me, you are such a die-hard Sparks fan that you even kneel at the altar of their more lackluster monuments—because even at their most squirmy and retroactively what-the-fuck, they never lacked guts and wit. That made them the notorious group we know and love: the forever underdogs that the world may never completely catch up with, which speaks more of our culture’s foolishness than their own.
And if you’re anything like me, you may have scoffed at Franz Ferdinand when they made their debut in the early 2000s. We were such reductionist snobs then, refusing to separate them from the disastrous tsunami of Nouveau Disco Punk (what wave was that supposed to be, anyway?) that gave us expendable, insulting acts like Interpol and Bloc Party, shamelessly pretending that Factory Records had never happened. Well, shame on us as well: Franz Ferdinand were always steadfast subversive playboys of the highest order, just as our beloved Sparks. For anyone that truly understands both bands—and the naked impact of their jagged contributions to the goddamned grid—it should be no wonder that this collaboration would be inevitable.
Like oil and water in a swirling translucent rainbow ballet over the gutter’s grime, the album’s opening is just as grandiose as you’d expect: it seems like a classically informed Sparks overture, but it’s pleasantly interrupted by the calm and unmistakably confident voice of Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, rubbing our faces in the mud of studio writer’s block—or the tongue-tied paralysis of communicating with a woman, which we should know is often one and the same. “Words are in my head, but I can’t enunciate them clearly,” he sings, “Headphones on your head, they prevent the chance to even try.”
One could either imagine ear buds crammed into the holes of the gorgeous yet aloof object of his affection, or the studio headphones of Sparks vocalist Russell Mael, who chimes in to complicate things further, as another self-loathing voice in the protagonist’s internal conversation: “Some might find me borderline attractive from afar/ But afar is not where I can stay and there you are.” There you have it—a triply poetic home-run, encapsulating not just the universally obsessive desires of the anti-hero of a song called “Johnny Delusional,” but our broader disconnect from one another in society as a whole, AND ALSO a clever wink to the challenges of two bands collaborating across the ocean from two disparate continents. In this economy, can it get any better?
The sound and sentiment of FFS is modern day science non-fiction, propelled by Sparks’ icy keys and operatic delivery and balanced with Franz Ferdinand’s uncanny knack for confectionary glam guitar tones and near-fascistic metronomic rhythm. Alex and Russell are a two-headed snake, their forked tongues never competing as they know they share the same rattle. These two nail all the icky subconscious emotions to the cross so we don’t have to—like the pining sadness of nostalgia and defeatist nihilism in “Little Man From The Suburbs” where the haunting refrain “There are no heroes in this life… I didn’t make it like I hoped we would…” seems to be the last drip dropped into our bitter cup of adulthood. Meanwhile, “Save Me From Myself” transmits paranoia so thick and convincing that I’m already looking out my window wondering where it all wrong and answering my own question with drooling laughter.
FFS is the kind of record that makes you feel like you’re on a mission, and if not, you are injected with the will to create that mission out of thin air. There’s the intercontinental tangle of “Police Encounters,” thrusting us into a tale of jaunty espionage where a wrong place/wrong time meet turns into lusting after a policeman’s wife. “So Many Bridges (In The World To Jump Off Of)” is another globe trotting indictment of jaded splendor, this time with wildfire gentrification and the docility of said inhabitants in FFS’ rifle sights. And though it’s their most cheeky and self-referential moment, “Collaborations Don’t Work” is also the most interesting and defiant track, as well as the most enjoyable for the “Who did what?” game you’ll no doubt find yourself playing with Sparks’ doom-laden music hall eccentricities and Franz’s smoother groove-based bounce.
And let’s face it: sometimes when you boil down rebellion into it’s most potent essence, the simple truth is that you’re simply just sick of everyone’s shit. That’s why the album’s closer “Piss Off” should be considered the flagship anthem of this glowing record. It’s de-evolved delinquent spout offs are the perfect contrast to a collection of songs that should double as an instructional manual for how to intelligently maneuver through this twisted life—or how to at least vent about it eloquently!