FFS “FFS” / Franz Ferdinand Sparks
Usually I do possess the ability to get excited about stuff, like a teenager, but that character trait of mine was hiding in the background in indifference, when FFS, which is the name of the collaboration between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks, arrived in my mailbox: right, yet another case of have-been pop stars teaming up with sacrosanct legends, trying to bathe in the ever-lasting glow that surrounds said legends.
That was my initial reaction and quite frankly the fact that I’d rather not listen to it at all. Luckily, in the end my professional curiosity prevailed and I listened to “Piss Off”, watched the video for “Johnny Delusional” and I was/still am excited like a teenager: the bastard pop I ended up listening to sounded so urgent, gaudy and spacy that I had to ask myself why they had not teamed up way earlier and boom, I read in an interview that the initial idea for Franz Ferdinand Sparks had already been conceived eleven years ago and had just not been pursued since Franz Ferdinand were just about to blow up back then. Well, and we all know how these things go down, when there’s that innocent moment of “hey, let’s do something together – maybe get coffee or something like that?” and then absolutely nothing comes of it. No calls are made and the pretty idea of what could have been fizzles out until you coincidentally bump into each other in the streets, like Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael did in San Francisco two years ago. It is quite likely that the way things were with Franz Ferdinand were decisive in making the decision to record an album together – but it doesn’t really matter since now the album is here and it’s indeed a lot of fun, respectively gets you going – I genuinely had to fight the urge to just run around the house like a crazy person. Very unlike me. As you can clearly hear the Mael brothers have contributed the majority share in content and sound and there is not a lot of room next to Ron’s typically hammering piano and Russell’s eccentric singing, but Franz Ferdinand make the most of it by using lively guitars, frantic beats, while showcasing Kaprano’s voice that is diametrically opposed to Russell’s. A perfect match. Sparks on the other hand employ a lot of keywords: Kimono, Cote d’Azur, Gary Cooper, Hello-Kitty-Uzi, Charles & Ray Eames – this is very Interior Design with Angst in my pants. Also interesting to mention how little outer circumstances influence the self-contained system that is FFS: this record could well have been released eleven years ago or even longer ago and will come across just as energetic eleven years from now. I do however not want to just fangirl about this record, at times it gets a little too simplistically carnivalesque for my taste (“The Man Without a Tan”) and a song title like “Collaborations Don’t Work” is just over the top. On the other hand: have such minor details ever stopped anyone from fangirling? See, there you go.
My first girlfriend owned a lot of cats. A lot of different ones however, since she lived in a very busy street. Just one of the cats, an old tomcat with a bruised tail and only one eye was clever and suspicious enough not to get itself run over by a car. It outlived generations of its fellow cats, countered every attempt that was made to approach it with hissing and blows of its paws and in general just seemed to want to be grumpy and die alone. Towards the end of its life however it decided to strike up a close friendship with a rabbit. You could rarely spot these two apart and they shared the eggs that my girlfriend’s uncle gave them with each other in a brotherly fashion. So what am I getting at with this lengthy description of provincial idyll? Nothing more than ecstatic excitement when it comes to unlikely pairings. Just that sort of excitement came over me when I learned that the grandmasters of artsy glam rock have formed an alliance with the grandmasters of artsy indie-rock and this feeling keeps coming back to me when I listen to the album and waves of corrupt benevolence wash over me. Said mixture as such however does not even stand out to the listener – it’s not extremely striking and far from volatile. Those of you who expect a dramatic battle of the bands like between Aerosmith and Run D.M.C. will be as disappointed as some Franz Ferdinand fans will be. The records just sounds a lot like a slightly refreshed and slightly more rock version of a record by Sparks than anything else. Some aspects of Sparks seem to stand out even more clearly than with Sparks by itself, for instance their theatrical character, the way the music is reminiscent of stage music. At the end of each song you picture Ron Mael locked in a grand gesture, eyes wide open, in that second of complete silence before the applause sets in. In the record info Kapranos talks about how the record came about: “When we first started exchanging song ideas, I noticed that I was writing from what I assumed to be the perspective of Sparks and what I received from the Maels sounded a lot like their idea of Franz Ferdinand.” From this angle, the dominance of Sparks on that record is not a failure on part of Franz Ferdinand to follow through with their ideas, but, much to the contrary, it is testament to their musical empathy and virtuous mobility. Either way, I am happy with it. The record they have made together – and I am a hundred percent sure about that – is much better than the records that each of the bands would have been able to make by themselves at any given moment. The songs never evoke strong emotions or passions, but all of them – from “Dictator’s Son” and “Man Without a Tan” to “Collaborations Don’t Work”, which is obviously self-referential and contradictory – are as extremely entertaining and clever as the song titles imply. And always equipped with this funny way of being annoying in a manner that is typical of Sparks – something that is probably most appealing to those people who love to be tickled just a little tiny bit. I know I am delighted. Very much so.