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Classic Album of the Week: Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better

By Cameron McBroom-Fitterer (MC Broom) posted Mar 26, 2014 at 04:09 PM

A love letter to Franz Ferdinand's second (and best) album, 2005's You Could Have It So Much Better , by Cameron McBroom.


Propelled by the hit single “Take Me Out,” Franz Ferdinand’s debut has been lauded as one of the most beloved albums to come out of the 2000’s. In 2004, the year of its release, it was awarded the Mercury Prize and climbed charts around the world. Along with bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, and the Kooks, Franz Ferdinand carved a name out for themselves in a burgeoning wave of UK indie rock. A little over one year after the self-titled Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish band released their second album, You Could Have It So Much Better, hoping to avoid the oft-feared “sophomore slump.” Even though You Could Have It So Much Better failed to reach the same level of popularity as its predecessor, the 2005 LP saw the band perfecting their groovy post-punk style and using it as a lens to explore more complex ideas.

Like Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better is instantly infectious. With their second outing, the band cemented their status as the undisputed kings of rock hooks. It turned out earlier songs like “Take Me Out” and “The Dark of the Matinée” were only drops in the bucket. Nearly every one of You Could Have It So Much Better’s 13 songs suggests that the guitar duo of Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy have a seemingly endless supply of intertwining earworm melodies at their disposal. Yet what sets You Could Have It So Much Better apart from their first album is the way it actively builds on that record’s strong points. Using Franz Ferdinand as a springboard of sorts, the band imbues their penchant for memorable tunes with greater variation and subtlety. The result is an album that has both a superficial magnetism as well as deeper intricacies that necessitate attentiveness. The brief but squelching solo at the close of the first track “The Fallen.” The pleasantly jarring tempo changes in “Well That Was Easy.” The simple one-beat bass-drum fill of the intro to “I’m Your Villain.” You Could Have It So Much Better is filled with modest experimentation; a newfound willingness to toy with song structure and instrumentation.

“Walk Away” remains one of the few Franz Ferdinand songs to feature acoustic guitar, yet the added flourishes of spaghetti western electrics keep it grounded in the band’s standard flair. A slow build and some clever bits of songwriting make it a standout track. “I love the sound of you walking away” Kapranos croons to a jilted lover, insisting that “the sun won’t swallow the sky” if she leaves him. Of course, that calamity and more are all that await him by the song’s end. Along with a duo of acoustic piano ballads, “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” and “Fade Together,” “Walk Away” showcases a softer, more earnest side of Franz Ferdinand. A side that tracks like “This Boy” and “Evil And A Heathen” eschew completely. “This Boy” transforms Kapranos’ croon into a sly snarl, creating an air of boisterous and youthful rebellion. Even when he slips into a whisper, he still exudes confidence.

In between all the rock n’ roll and balladry, Kapranos and friends still find time to do what they do best: dance. While dance beats might feature more prominently on their future records (see third LP Tonight:Franz Ferdinand), Franz Ferdinand never cut a rug as well as they did on their second album. In fact “Outsiders,” the final song on You Could Have It So Much Better, might be the band’s best (rivaled only by “The Fallen” and Franz Ferdinand’s “40’”). Drummer Paul Thomson and bassist Bob Hardy lock into a persistent, undeniable groove behind sharp disco guitars and space-age keyboards. The song rarely changes pace, but its energy is so contagious it doesn’t need to. Lead single “Do You Want To” and “I’m Your Villain” act similarly, proving that you don’t need turntables, 808’s, or Macbooks to hit the dancefloor in the 21st century.       

Franz Ferdinand took their name from the Austrian Archduke whose assassination sparked the First World War, an aesthetic that You Could Have It So Much Better continues to feed. Its lyrics reference a host of 20th century relics from “Churchill,” “Stalin,” and “Lee Miller,” to “phone dials,” “Coney Island,” and the “Berlin Wall,” and its cover is a nod to the work of Russian constructivist Alexander Rodchenko. Yet even though the band keeps one foot in the past, they have no trouble viewing their influences with a modern pluralism. You Could Have It So Much Better is equal parts punk, disco, indie, and art rock, a winning combination that helped form a maturing band’s masterpiece. Thankfully, skyrocketing to critical and commercial success never went to Franz Ferdinand’s heads. They dodged the sophomore slump and had it so much better.

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