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Music Review: Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

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Sometimes you can read a great deal into a record's gestation period. Take Chinese Democracy for example. Or maybe the less said about that the better. Admittedly sometimes you can't – the half decade between Dido's Life For Rent and Safe Trip Home appears to have had little effect on the singer's mawkish AOR blueprint – but the fact that it's taken Franz Ferdinand nearly four years to follow up 2005's sophomore effort You Could Have Had It So Much Better would seemingly point to more than a disagreement over whether the studio had the right kind of sofa.

And we missed having the Glaswegian quartet around; at their breakthrough moment in 2004 they charmed the pants off us with the glorious, thumping art-rock of "Take Me Out", their gauche hybrid of post punk and glam pointing to a lineage that echoed Blur, Roxy Music and little known fellow scots Josef K. During a gap which was evidently part hiatus, part introspective quest for direction, lead singer Alex Kapranos has kept himself busy, producing The Cribs last pre-Marr record Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever, writing a food column for a British newspaper and moonlighting on guitar for Norwgian singer Annie. Whilst Franz Ferdinand's physical embodiment was turning his hand to broader horizons, the group however began to get stuck in neutral around delivering their next long player.

The first hint that the process of creating the difficult third album was lurching into self fulfillment was the benching early last year of Girls Aloud svengalis/production team Xenomania, guitarist Nick McCarthy summing up the failure to connect succinctly with the subsequent comment "We're not really a pop band". Kapranos then began talking openly of a pronounced (And modish) afrobeat influence, mirroring the critical acclaim being heaped on Vampire Weekend. Finally, Hot Chip collaborator Dan Carey was brought in to helm and the band settled into a former drug unit in Govan to finish what they'd started.

The results, despite all the press conjecture, mark a subtle departure which existing fans will barely notice. Tonight:Franz Ferdinand retains all the things which endeared themselves to us in the first flush of our relationship, majoring on the unrequited desires and pre-coital naivety of those awkward, fumbling assignations. If anything, it's the context however which has shifted. Whereas the first two albums were about angles and sleekness, the output of a group of intellectual townies who were only too pleased to let us entertain the notion we were inferior hangers on, Tonight…has much more of a louche sense of playfulness and a come one, come all spirit. Take the final couplets of "Bite Hard", on which Kapranos growls blithely "We ride together, we die together".

The much publicized African influences have also stepped into the background, only surfacing on "Send Him Away", an otherwise understated amalgam of sixties pop and psychedelic organ and in it's lack of pristine gloss, one of the record's most appealing moments. Opener "Ulysses" – complete with clavinet and hip shaking white funk patina – is as close to "Take Me Out's" college disco esprit de corps as the band have ever subsequently got.

There's still room for a journey into the teenage nudge-wink fantasizing they do so well, as Kapranos confesses on "Twilight Omens" to typing the object of desire's phone number into his calculator and it spelling "A dirty word", whilst a keyboard hook worthy of ABBA elevates the music above the smut and gives cause for dispute of McCarthy's prognosis on FF's aptitude for giving the public what they want.

For all the sense of new inclusiveness, plundered more from the likes of the self proclaimed "Dirty pop" of "No You Girls" and the Hot Chip-esque DIY electronica of Dream Again, possibly of the most significance is the sprawling conclusion to the seven minute "Lucid Dreams". Whilst it begins traditionally enough with jagged riffs words about utopia, eventually it's subsumed into white noise and dubby guitar chords, before ultimately being swamped by burbling techno synths. Kapranos hinted recently that this nascent club orientation might be more than a temporary destination, mirroring a rejection of guitars which fellow class of 2004 graduates Bloc Party have also recently chosen.

It's a hint at reinvention, but only a hint. Tonight… is still undeniably a Franz Ferdinand album. It seems that for all the self examination, the conclusion the quartet reached was that if it ain't broke, then no reason to disenfranchise several million impatient fans. The only question that it doesn't conclusively answer is whether it was worth the wait, but here you sense only yet more time will tell.

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