Saturday, March 21, 2009

European Dance Party

They don't need to put on the red light: Franz Ferdinand slides onto the dance floor with their twitchy rock intact.

Two of the CDs I got a little while ago have little in common on the surface: one disc is by a one hit wonder from 2004 and the other is by one of the best known rock bands of the past twenty years. Yet they bear strong similarities in 2009. Need a hint about these bands? They both are European, have four members and combine an alternative rock sound with techno beats. Yup, you got it, it's Franz Ferdinand and U2.

Franz Ferdinand came on the scene strong with a vigorous debut album and smash single Take Me Out. The sophomore jinx caught up with them on a solid yet unsatisfying second disc pushing the Scottish foursome to take a different approach for their third record, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. I have to admit to being skeptical of what to expect this time out, for about a year or so there were many reports of the group supplanting their Gang of Four slam with boogie beats. Usually these hybrid attempts at music come off as desperate and tacked on, so I was a little surprised at how good this CD is. The combination of dance floor grooves and Alt rock kick blends seamlessly, allowing Franz to take their next step artistically.

Throughout the disc, Franz' familiar sense of ironic, dour melody and brittle guitars continue their traditional style as the beat gets enhanced with the latest electronic bells and whistles. The Apple I-whatever commercial has gotten exposure for one of the best songs, the bouncing jaunty No You Girls. "Ulysses" is a good lead single with their well known "la la la la" style chorus intact to draw some attention. For me, the best song was Lucid Dreams which starts off with the band and then evolves into something like Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" groove at the end.

It's still not as good as their first album, but for a good time in the post recession economy you can call on Franz Ferdinand to bring the party. After the party's over, who's gonna save the world?

U2 returns to the spotlight to answer that question. The follow up to their slightly schizophrenic 2004 release How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb which rocked like a like a boulder in a catapult the first half and then pulled all the juice on the second half, No Line on the Horizon brings the Irish group back with their best known producers at the board. As with any U2 album there is a ton of hype and a lot of reviews already out there, so I'll just speak broadly about this one.

Some people thought this disc would be a summation of all the previous versions of U2's sound: The chiming guitars and hearty anthems of the 80's mixed with the cool jokey dance floor vibe of the 90's. Well, for the most part those people were right. No Line on the Horizon does sound like that quite a bit. Electronic sounds buzz and swarm about before giving way to Edge's famous serrated guitar sound and Bono's belting. There is a bit of a World music feel in parts and the stellar production team of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite find the right balance of spacious openness and meaty substance. The rhythm section of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen are in fine form, providing a pulsing drive and slapping percussion to ground the sound.

While the first single Get On Your Boots with it's jumpin' electronica groove and drum break fails to kill me (though it is better in the context of the disc than as a stand alone) much of the album is quite good. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight is a mid tempo pop rocker filled with hooks. The ballad Moment of Surrender is packed with all the bleeding heart chest thumping sensitivity that they're known for and has a great chorus to boot. Another ballad, White as Snow, has a lyrical beauty and has the feel of a deep soundtrack cut for an art house movie.

U2 pretty much said this is their bid to remain relevant and on that scale the album is a success. Nothing on No Line comes off as rote or tired, the album hangs together as a collective statement and maintains a level of ambition. U2 still wants to rule the planet or at least save it, though there are no obvious smash hit songs this time out No Line on the Horizon proves they still matter.


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

U2. Nuff said.

Mr. Mike said...

It looks like this won't be as big a commercial block buster as past albums but it still is good.