Album Review: Franz Ferdinand Sparks, ‘FFS’
There’s that initial sensation when you eat a peanut butter cup for the first time. These two sensational tastes merged together into it’s own wonderful entity. It’s a lot like listening to the debut album from FFS.
For those unaware, FFS stands for Franz Ferdinand and Sparks. Franz Ferdinand – the 21st century Scottish pop masters – have teamed up with, arguably, one of the most creative American bands this side of the Beach Boys. Sparks’ history dates back to the dawn of the ’70s and, during the course of 22 albums, they have continually reshaped pop-rock into their own unique vision. The two bands met up at various points during the years and that age old “we should work together sometime” motif kept coming up. Finally, a bluff was called and the result is this stellar new album.
So what do FFS sound like? Simple: like Franz Ferdinand and Sparks. There are undeniable elements of both acts woven into all of the album’s 12 songs. It’s a grand splash of modern sounds crashing into pop sensibilities of the past. From the very first track onward, it’s a glorious ride. In a perfect world, “Johnny Delusional” would be a massive hit, obliterating everything else on the vapid airwaves of terrestrial, satellite and whatever other radio you want to name. It’s insanely catchy and clever, and if you ask us, it’s the single of the year. No one asked? Oh well.
The album rolls up one hill and down another, switching gears between the identities of both bands. Some tracks, such as “Call Girl” and “Little Guy From Suburbia,” fall a bit more on the Franz Ferdinand side of things, while “Save Me From Myself” and the aforementioned “Johnny Delusional,” lean more toward the Sparks influence. It’s hard to pry it all apart though, as both halves fit very well together. It’s certainly not a battle for air time, but rather a genuine collaboration, despite the title of one the album’s finest tracks, “Collaborations Don’t Work.”
Speaking of that song, it is nothing short of genius. It is, in a word, epic. From simple pop to grandiose operatic bombast to choral pop workout in the blink of an ear all before you can say Queen (and Sparks were driving that route before Freddie Mercury and company). The lyrics of Ron Mael are second to none, always have been, and his way around a melody is nothing to sneeze at either.
It was a mutual admiration society ethic that bought this all about. “Sparks had been a big band for us, a big influence,” Kapranos told Jools Holland in a recent interview.”In fact our very first rehearsal for Franz Ferdinand, we tried to play a Sparks song: Achoo.” Russell Mael adds his own tale, saying, “We had heard [Franz Ferdinand’s] ‘Take Me Out‘ before it became a massive worldwide hit, and we were really impressed with the uniqueness of it.”
Where else are you going to find a song titled “A Man Without A Tan” or “Dictator’s Son”? This is highly stylized pop-rock that really has no direct comparisons to anyone other than the two bands doing the work here, and that’s saying a lot. Musically, things stay within the traditional guitar, bass, drums and keyboard lineup, but it’s what they do within the tried and true format that shines.
The album ends with the splendid ditty, “Piss Off,” which is everything you would hope a song of that title would be. It’s also another prime example of how both bands complement each other’s style. Sparks’ Russell Mael and Alex Kapranos from Franz trade off lines throughout, showing how their distinctly different vocal styles sit side by side quite nicely.
With any luck, all the Franz fans will get turned on to the wonderful world of Sparks, while all the Sparks diehards will give Ferdinand a spin or two. In the meantime, let the triumph of FFS wash over you. Don’t believe that collaborations don’t work, because, in this case, they most certainly do.