Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Collaborations Don't Work? Franz Ferdinand and Sparks team up as FFS



Release date: 08 June 2015
16 June 2015, 13:30 Written by Joe Goggins
Quite a few reviews of Run the Jewels 2 picked up on the fact that it didn’t seem quite as silly as its predecessor, and that it was likely down to the fact that Killer Mike and El-P had been covering their backs a little on the first album; if it didn’t really come off, or go down particularly well, they could just claim they were dicking about and that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be taken especially seriously.

A similar hedging of bets, on the face of it at least, seems to be happening on this joint effort from Franz Ferdinand and Sparks - on top of the fact that they’ve, you know, christened themselves FFS, there’s tracks with names like “Piss Off”, “The Power Couple” and - most tellingly - “Collaborations Don’t Work.”

That last statement is largely false though, at least in this case, and as tongue-in-cheek as the presentation might seem, this is nothing like as strange a pairing as it might seem on paper. That it’s apparently been mooted, and consistently put off, for a decade now - which is not far off the entirety of Franz Ferdinand’s career - doesn’t seem all that surprising either; you get the impression that Ron and Russell Mael picked up on something about the Glaswegians that they knew would complement their own music fairly early on.

FFS is a record that has plucked, with surgical precision, the respective bands’ eccentricities and blended them together carefully; this is not an album that sounds as if it was thrown together for a laugh. Russell Mael’s perma-falsetto probably shouldn’t work especially well alongside Kapranos’ frequently deadpan delivery, but it does - even on tracks that feel like, instrumentally, they lean more heavily towards one of the groups than the other. “Johnny Delusional” is one of the tracks that feels like it wouldn’t have been massively out of place on Franz’s underrated, dance-oriented third LP Tonight - you could say the same about “Call Girl” too - but the seams feel as if they’ve been let out just enough to accommodate the synths and silliness that the American duo have made their calling card for so long.

Things don’t quite click the same way when the songs naturally gravitate towards the Sparks sound; it’s hard to understand quite what Franz bring creatively to “Save Me from Myself”, and on “Police Encounter” and “So Desu Ne”, they’re trying too hard to match their collaborators; the results are messy. The true highlights, instead, arise when it feels like both bands are genuinely meeting in the middle; the dark, moody “Things I Won’t Get” offers a different angle on the constant striving for strangeness, whilst you can practically hear the ideas bouncing back and forth on “Dictator’s Son” - spiraling piano, sharp guitar licks and urgent vocals all order of the day.

And then, perhaps inevitably, it’s the glorious “Collaborations Don’t Work” that proves the standout; running at nearly seven minutes, it swings between feeling fraught with drama one minute and utterly boisterous the next, and the lyrical see-saw that Kapranos and Mael are sitting on is a delight, ultimately ending up sounding like a fabulously warped take on Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” - “I am a sadistic young usurper!” croons Kapranos, “a hand on your neck! If I ever need a father, it won’t be you, old man!”

There’s moments where creeping doubt, and a little bit of self-awareness, begin to set in - mainly on Franz’s part - but those aside, this is going to challenge Ezra Furman’s Perpetual Motion People for the title of the year’s finest pop oddball. It’ll be interesting to see, too, quite how the live shows will play out, with promises of tracks from both bands’ back catalogues; the mashed-up version of “Take Me Out” and “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us” that they aired on Later...with Jools Holland a little while back sounded a tad forced, but if they can weave the same nuance that’s prevalent on the record into their live performances, they should be just fine.

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