“Collaborations don’t work!” At least that’s what Franz Ferdinand and Sparks proclaim in the eleventh track of FFS, tongues planted firmly in cheeks. The album, the result of an unlikely collaboration between two idiosyncratic groups who hail from quite separate generations of popular music, is an exercise in emphatically disproving this claim. Indeed, sometimes collaborations bring out the creative best in all parties. Their statement to the contrary is evidence of the subversive sense of humour that runs through the project, much of the material delivered with a clever wink or a wry smile.
And frankly, Franz Ferdinand probably needed something like this. For more than a decade they have consistently produced quirky art-rock over disco rhythms, but to slightly diminishing returns since their 2004 breakthrough, ‘Take Me Out’. Through teaming with Sparks (seventies’ glam rock veterans Russell and Ron Mael), they find themselves reinvented by the creative challenge. It’s a two-way street as well, working nicely for Sparks, whose penchant for the theatrical is nicely grounded by those Franz Ferdinand song-writing instincts.
The album takes a few listens to work its magic. But part of its charm is that it does ask something of the listener: just surrender to the journey and go with it. But it’s enjoyably satisfying once you do. Some of the melodramatic glam affectations jar a little upon the first listen, but persistence rewards. In the streaming era, so much music is designed to resist the consumer’s urge to skip or shuffle; so it’s really quite refreshing to hear music that expects something of the audience, where the reward lies in repeated listens rather than the obvious, but fleeting, hook.
The songwriting presents some wildly entertaining character studies: in ‘Dictator’s Son’ we get the son of a despot who has no interest in carrying on the family business, preferring instead to live it up in America, while ‘Power Couple’ is a wonderfully subversive study in celebrity. For all the quirky humour and in-jokes there is some rather serious satire going on here, targeting the vacuous pursuits of fame, fortune and power. The final track ‘Piss Off’ leaves us with an inventive piece of social commentary, articulating that desire to be just be left alone amidst all the distractions.
There are moments when FFS threaten to get carried away with their own cleverness. ‘So Desu Ne’, for instance, doesn’t quite work. Despite occasional moments of unevenness, though, this is a creative and inventive effort, a thoroughly stimulating listen.
Collaborations? There should be more like this!
FFS is out now from Domino.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor