Best of a decade: Franz Ferdinand release their debut album
Setting the template for art-rock, and showcasing their ineffable cool in the process, Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled debut was a turning point for Scottish music. Claire Sawers asks Malcolm Ross of highly influential bands including Josef K and Orange Juice to explain the album’s significance
The slim, shiny ties. The side parts. The cardigans. Those first fifty seconds before ‘Take Me Out’ changes tempo – from jangly, indie guitars into a throbbing, suave, Scotpop anthem. Wherever you were in the first fortnight of 2004, chances are, if you were near an open car window, or a switched-on telly, you were listening to Franz Ferdinand.
Their break-out single ‘Take Me Out’ announced the arrival of ‘the archdukes of cool’, an art-rock four-piece from Glasgow. After meeting at Glasgow School of Art, Alex Kapranos (lead vocals and guitar), Bob Hardy (bass), Nick McCarthy (keyboards and backing vocals) and Paul Thomson (drums and backing vocals) blended louche but debonair style with melodic, chart bothering charm.
Malcolm Ross remembers seeing them for the first time on TV. ‘I was fed up of a lot of bands by then,’ says Ross, who began his career in the ’80s, playing guitar in seminal Scottish bands Josef K, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. Releasing music through the cult Glasgow indie label Postcard Recordings, Ross was part of an influential set of performers who shared the label motto, ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’.
‘A lot of pop this decade just sounded like people throwing mud at a wall,’ shrugs Ross. ‘If you did it long enough, eventually something would stick. But I heard 'Take Me Out' and that, I thought, that was a good song.
‘There was something stylish about them. Witty. They did things with a lot of intelligence. I never ever got Belle & Sebastian I’m afraid, and Mogwai went straight over my head. But Franz Ferdinand, they really did it for me.’
The eponymous album from which ‘Take Me Out’ was taken bulldozed its way into the British, American and Australian charts. It produced three top ten singles with ‘Take Me Out’, ‘The Dark of the Matinee’ and ‘This Fire’, and quickly gathered a clutch of awards – two BRITs, an Ivor Novello, the NME’s album of the year, and 2004’s Mercury Prize.
‘I think they just had the package,’ explains Ross. ‘There was the technical competence on the album – bringing in Tore Johansson [producer of The Cardigans, A-ha and A Camp]; that was a masterstroke. Plus Franz Ferdinand love their art references – on the album sleeves, in lyrics, across their videos. You always got the sense that those ideas were really coming from the band members – as opposed to a svengali manager, or some camp stylist in the background.’
And how did it feel to Ross when Franz Ferdinand outed themselves as massive Josef K fans, also citing Orange Juice as a major influence?
‘Well, it was all vaguely flattering,’ he laughs. ‘To me, visually they definitely have a similarity to Postcard bands of the ‘80s, but musically, I think they’re somewhere between Josef K, who were always more edgy and dark, and Orange Juice, at the poppier end of things. I could hear synthpop sounds of Ultravox, or the post-punk of The Monochrome Set in there too.’
In a decade where Ross also enjoyed The Arctic Monkeys (‘That had such drive!’), Babyshambles and The Libertines (‘After all the hype, I found myself enjoying it despite myself’), he thinks Franz Ferdinand’s debut effort sums up the noughties sound. ‘There’s a real precision to the production – technically, they can craft great songs, with no boring verses, or album fillers. There’s an energy to it, and maybe they’ll never match it again, but that was a recognisably good album. A classic.’