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FRANZ FERDINAND (Buy CDs by this artist)
Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic) 2004

The exponents of Scotland's many modern rock traditions — which include finely wrought pop (Orange Juice, Teenage Fanclub, etc.), anthemic stadium power (Big Country, Simple Minds), funk (APB, AWB) and noisy punk (from the Exploited to Jesus and Mary Chain) and owe a lot to the indulgence of the nation's art colleges — have, at their best, refuted prevailing styles with a healthy match of willfulness and ingenuity. So while the idea of taking primary stylistic cues from the late-'70s guitar-chop/bass anchor intensity of the Gang of Four might be a fatal step backwards for other 21st century bands, the Glasgow four-piece named after the Austro-Hungarian archduke whose 1914 assassination sparked the start of World War I has found brilliantly original new uses for it. What FF have done on their debut — much as the Stone Roses did by burying themselves neck deep in the familiar soil of jangly guitar pop — is nothing like imitation. (Although they do cover, and improve on, an unacknowledged cover of the Fire Engines' "Jacqueline.") Singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos, guitarist Nick McCarthy, bassist Bob Hardy and drummer Paul Thompson have found in the past (and, if the sporadic resemblance to the Strokes, especially in the prelude part of "Take Me Out," is an indication, the present) of tools to create a distinct and self-contained contemporary musical statement, a simply produced, highly strung, danceable rush whose uniqueness emerges organically from inevitable internal factors rather than calculation or contrivance.

The music is unpolished, energetic, ticktock rock with stirring melodies, nifty fillips of instrumental coloring and a musty breeze of Noël Coward dandyism in contrast to the edgy undercurrent that precludes casual listening. Lyrics, which are personal/anti-romantic rather than political/anti-romantic, are Franz Ferdinand's weakest link. Songs occasionally connect with intrigue (as in primary writer McCarthy's "Darts of Pleasure" and Hardy's "The Dark of the Matinee") but more often succumb to vagueness, simplicity, repetition or vapidity. "Tell Her Tonight" is not only a title but nearly the entire verbiage of the song's chorus and bridge; the verses add little. "Cheating on You" relies on phrases like "goodbye, girl." Ultimately, if Franz Ferdinand has little to say in words, blood-racing urgency delivers the band's message as clearly as an assassin's bullet.

[Ira Robbins]