If there’s a twinge of what-might’ve-been disappointment surrounding Tonight: Franz Ferdinand because of the Scottish quartet’s aborted recording sessions with Girls Aloud producers Xenomania, that feeling is ultimately overshadowed by the ways in which the album showcases the archdukes’ willingness to take risks with their trademark formula. While not all of those risks pay off, what works about Tonight speaks to the band’s greater maturity and vision.
Billed as more of a straight-up dance record than their previous efforts, Tonight generally sticks to the four-four stomp that has been the band’s stock-and-trade, but they’ve deliberately slowed their tempo here. Fortunately, the band’s rhythm section, which has always been what elevates them above stylistically similar acts like Bloc Party and Interpol, is capable of carrying tracks like “Turn It On” and “Live Alone.” It’s the obvious disco influence here—the bassline on “Can’t Stop Feeling” is cribbed from Larry Levan, while “Bit Hard” favorably recalls a cover of Blondie’s “Call Me” that the band recorded for a charity project—that keeps most of the songs from succumbing to their sluggish pace, pushing the band’s sonic palette in new directions.
If the electric bass does most of the heavy lifting on the record, it’s the synthesizers and other distorted electronic elements that give the album its texture. The extended coda of the nearly eight-minute “Lucid Dreams” doesn’t entirely work; it suggests that the band and producer Dan Carey don’t necessarily have the best instincts when it comes to acting on their experimental impulses. The muffled keyboard riffs that run through “Twilight Omens” and the spare “Dream Again” are far more effective, while the fuzzy distortion on lead single “Ulysses” draws from the excellent Daft Punk remix of “Take Me Out.” The album’s other obvious choices for singles, “No You Girls” and “What She Came For,” take fewer risks but are no less gratifying than Franz Ferdinand’s singles routinely are. The hooks are massive, the production is spot-on (the handclaps on “No You Girls” only heighten its propulsive rhythm), and the swagger sells it all.
To this point, Franz Ferdinand has been known primarily as a singles band, and they’ve arguably been the best singles band of the past decade. Unlike their two previous efforts, not every cut on Tonight sounds tailor-made for the radio or the dance floor. Instead, this is the band’s first effort at crafting a cohesive, start-to-finish album. If not boasting the most sophisticated of concepts, the record does have an overarching narrative about seemingly endless nights spent out on the club circuit. From the Odyssey-inspired threat of “Ulysses” (the song peaks with frontman Alex Kapranos menacingly shouting, “You’re never going home!”) and the protracted flirting of “Twilight Omens” to the feverish “Lucid Dreams” and the final hazy comedowns of “Dream Again” and “Katherine Kiss Me,” there’s an awareness of broad structure here that’s new to the band. Of all of the risks Franz Ferdinand takes on Tonight, the attempt to record something more than a collection of impossibly stylish standalone singles is the most significant.