Falling in the middle of Franz Ferdinand’s fourth album is Fresh Strawberries, a song whose jaunty harmonies can’t quite mask the underlying fear of death and decay. “We are fresh strawberries / fresh burst of red strawberries / ripe, turning riper in the bowl,” sings Alex Kapranos, sounding less confident than his usual art-house ringmaster self. “We will soon be rotten / we will all be forgotten…”Like much of Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, it’s a song about longing for something bigger than yourself - in this case, the faith that could insulate you against the grimmest inevitability of human existence. Less grandly, however, it also encapsulates the plight of those bands who capture their moment perfectly in a novelty-hungry world, like Franz Ferdinand did almost a decade ago. Two traditional paths are open to such artists, and they have now tried both as a way of warding off predatory oblivion. 2009’s Tonight was the concept album, complete with night-on-the-town story arc, experimental percussion (human bones) and aborted sessions with Xenomania. Four years later, this record tries the other method: getting back to basics, which for a band this smart isn’t really that basic at all.
If Tonight’s emotionally flexible narrative flatteringly framed their intelligence, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action might just win out when it comes to fun. Kapranos has stated they wanted it to sound “like Franz Ferdinand” and they hit that target immediately with Right Action, a bouncy, comic-sans version of their more angular hits. It was inspired by a postcard Kapranos found in Brick Lane market that read “Come home / practically all is nearly forgiven” (the album’s opening lines) and turned out to be addressed to Karel Reisz, director of Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.
That's the kind of serendipitous grace note that chimes sweetly with the album‘s unforced tone. Bullet, which seems to be repressing a desire to slip into Debbie Harry drag under messy guitars, comes tipped with an explosive lyric (“get out of my head / I get out of my head now”) to match the tune. The Universe Expanded merges romance and astrophysics to spacey, star-crossed effect, while the jittery keyboards of Treason! Animals recall Pulp melting down in their darkest acrylic afternoons. For a band who sound so full of life, death hangs heavy: the album closes with the processional clatter of Goodbye Lovers & Friends, the best song about last wishes since Smog’s Dress Sexy At My Funeral: “Don’t play pop music, no / You know I hate pop music.”
That’s hard to believe. Those strawberries might be on the turn, but Franz Ferdinand remain in robust good health, athletic aesthetes who have yet to break their stride. There’s no great leap forward here but the spring in their step is unmistakable. All present, all correct.
Listen to Evil Eye and Stand On the Horizon remixed by Todd Terje: