It’s not often that two whole bands collaborate, never mind two bands as well established as Franz Ferdinand and Sparks, but the match-up of the two is one that, on paper, looks rather fantastic. Franz Ferdinand and Sparks have had a mutual admiration from the very start – one of the first songs that Franz Ferdinand ever tried to play as a band was Sparks’ track ‘Achoo’, which incidentally they have been playing on their joint tour. But does this theoretically very good collaboration work?
The album blasts through the gates with the opening big piano chords and danceable chorus of ‘Johnny Delusional’, a track which perfectly sets the scene: the voices of Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael trade off lines and their voices complement each other rather wonderfully. While we don’t see a huge amount of Franz Ferdinand’s instrumental style on this track, Ron Mael’s piano strikes through loud and clear. The immediate strength of the album only continues with the truly masterful ‘Call Girl’, which is easily one of my tracks of the year thus far. If you sped this track up a notch it could’ve easily been on an early 80s Sparks album such as ‘Angst In My Pants’, but the tempo this songs sits at has a very satisfying lilt to it – this should’ve been a far bigger hit than it was.
‘Dictator’s Son’ is a track that manages to be simultaneously witty and dark, telling the story of the son of a dictator who flees his homeland to avoid his birth right to overthrow the country – the lyrics are classic Mael, on a form very reminiscent of Sparks’ ‘Lil’ Beethoven’. It is likely to be the only song ever to rhyme ‘Harris Tweed’ with ‘Bundesliga’. This is also the first time on the album we get a real hit of Franz Ferdinand guitar – the lead riff is huge and the two bands have truly made their presences known on this album.
While we slow down a bit for the next track ‘Little Guy From The Suburbs’, which is a personal favourite, we pick it right back up again with ‘Police Encounters’, a bouncy song with a bouncy chorus to match, and ‘Save Me From Myself’, which is again a showcase of the classic Sparks wit – a song about a man who feels no danger in the most concerning of situations but is terrified when left alone in his own apartment. This track flicks between a verse that could’ve been on Sparks’ 1974 album ‘Kimono My House’, but has a middle eight that sounds more like it’s from 2006’s ‘Hello Young Lovers’ – this is a culmination of the styles from throughout Sparks’ career.
The strength only continues with ‘So Desu Ne’, though this is the place where one of my few quibbles with the album surfaces – the effects put on the vocals are, at times, rather overdone and distracting from the vocals themselves. Kapranos and Mael have both put in fantastic vocal performances on this album so it’s a shame to see them somewhat covered up with flange effects.
‘The Man Without A Tan’ sounds, instrumentally at least, like something straight off a Franz Ferdinand album, but with the twist of a Sparks-style vocal from Russell Mael on it – it cannot be stated enough how well these two bands complement each other. Nick McCarthy of Franz Ferdinand takes lead vocals on ‘Things I Won’t Get’, and while it’s perhaps not as flashy as other tracks on the album, it showcases some of the best lyrics.
The album then stalls slightly with ‘The Power Couple’, a song with amusing lyrics but a motif that becomes a little too repetitive, and ‘Collaborations Don’t Work’, a track which goes through many phases and sections. It is supposed to show various different elements of the two bands involved in the collaboration, but it sadly goes on a little too long, clocking in at a little under seven minutes. Some sections of the song, however, are fantastic, so this is not too much of a problem, especially considering the quality of the rest of the album. Had the track been cut down, it could’ve potentially been a standout track, as the concept of the song is hilarious.
We then close with the ridiculous ‘Piss Off’, which was the first track we heard from the album, released on April Fools’ Day, of all days. It immediately grabs you and closes the album rather wonderfully – the section beginning ‘I gaze into my crystal ball…’ is particularly special and this track shows that while this band is made up of some fantastic musicians, they don’t take themselves too seriously, they’re willing to have some fun, which is a joy to hear.
Overall, the self-titled album from FFS is a very varied piece – both bands can be clearly heard in the mix, but the combination of them becomes something very spectacular indeed. Although the album has its weaker points, they are more than made up for by tracks like ‘Call Girl’ and ‘So Desu Ne’, which are not only brilliant, but good enough to stand right up there with the back catalogues of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks.