REVIEW: FFS (Franz Ferdinand & Sparks) – FFS

FFS might feel like the appropriate phrase when two of the most idiosyncratic groups in rock who burst onto the rockosphere (sorry) three decades apart have essentially made a musical version of a Marvel movie. Instead of Hulk and Iron Man, we’re treated to the sonic explosions, moral crusades and popcorn-munching fun of a very knowing supergroup.

For those new to either band, Sparks are Ron and Russell Mael, who 40 years ago released an album called Kimono My House with a hit single they performed on Top of the Pops. It was a lightly operatic song that incorporated about ten existing genres and made up a few more. In 2004, taking this mange-tout approach to pop, Franz Ferdinand sang songs featuring Terry Wogan and Gavrilo Princip set to motoring guitars. At least two of rock’s riffs of the noughties came from the fingers of Alex Kapranos and friends (Paul, Nick and Bob), whose four albums as Franz Ferdinand contain golden moments that capture the best of the art rock movement but can be filed under pop.

Sending music to each other as they toured (but not in a ‘here’s line A, you do line B’ way) the result is one superb track after another which seem to have been recorded with love for pop and for each other’s canons. The best moments are the ones where it really sounds like FFS as a union.

The first line of Johnny Delusional, which contains the word ‘enunciate’, could be found in the back catalogues of both bands, establishing familiar territory. Sartre pops up on Little Guy from the Suburbs, which sounds like a requiem. The Power Couple is a loving homage to This Town Ain’t Big Enough… that sounds like Russell and Alex are suppressing laughter, and new single Call Girl (“Why don’t you call, girl?” rather than being about prostitutes) has that Franz swagger coupled with Russell’s detached delivery.

Every song has either genius lyrics, quirky instrumentation (The Man Without a Tan has both) and brilliant vocal delivery from joint-frontmen Alex and Russell. The ‘final battle’ comes on the penultimate track, Collaborations Don’t Work. As with the superhero fables, we don’t want to spoil the surprise, but the title of the song indicates reluctance and then an embrace of each other.

Ron Mael told one music weekly that in 2015 pop music, like blockbusters one could argue, is “formulaic”. By thinking outside the box and not giving a single fuck, FFS might well have made the ‘most rollicking, feelgood album of the year.

Jonny Brick

FFS by FFS can be ordered here.

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