Remember Menswear? They made NME’s 1995 list of best new bands amongst the names of Supergrass, The Foo Fighters and Ash. They released Daydreamer. They were sensationally signed after just one gig. Oh, and now they probably work as bitter sales reps for shammy leather.
In the not too distant future they may sell some car cleaning products to the new boys of the cool band top table, Franz Ferdinand, who have enjoyed the sort of meteoric rise that recalls the days of Britpop and Menswear. They have crashed through the mesosphere of the press, rocketed through the stratosphere of the top ten and landed on coffee tables across the land.
“It’s been really great,” said Nick without a hint of listlessness, “it’s been really hectic, but a lot of fun.” I enquired if the band worried about over-exposure, about so much expectation and adulation only a month after the release of their first record, but Nick shrugged at any suggestion that there may be a downside. “We’re just glad to be getting so much attention.”
You certainly can’t blame the man, and who was I to piss on his parade, but I couldn’t help feeling that Franz Ferdinand are being re-packaged as something they are not. They are certainly a great band, bursting with energy and talent, but it seems a little unfair to build them up as much as they have been and expect a freshly written chapter in British music by Monday morning. Given space a band can develop organically at a comfortable pace, but if lavished in too much praise and expectation they will be shot down at the first dip in form – remember Oasis. On the evidence of their ability so far, the Franz are not Oasis, although there will never have been a trickier creative minefield than that impending ‘difficult second album’.
In the two years that the band have been together, you could have predicted the halo of hype that the industry have cast upon them, but perhaps not the mainstream commercial success they have found. Their single Take Me Out shot straight in at number two and spent many weeks up there above Beyonce and Liberty X and the album continues to sell well. If the fourteen year old single-buying girl has started to pick up “nouveau art-rock” along with the Mysterious Girl re-release and Woollies pick n’ mix then at least something is working in this crazy, mixed up world.
Perhaps it says a lot about the general media saturation with garage rock bands. Franz Ferdinand have been welcomed in some quarters like the Christmas Coca-Cola truck convoy re-routed through the Sahara Desert, but is this really a new scene?
“I don’t really like ‘scenes’,” said Nick, predictably, “but we just like dressing up and stuff and its good to get away from the garage rock scene. We’re just trying to play nice tunes and danceable stuff.” If this was their brief they can consider the operation a success; certainly their songs betray a structural and technical superiority to your average New York export and the haircuts are more Kraftwerk than Rolling Stones, however many will feel that the overall ambiance is suspiciously familiar.
The cool influences have changed from MC5 and Television to Prince and Roxy Music, who Nick informed me were the biggest influence upon the sound of Franz Ferdinand.
“We’re all into different things,” he continued, “I really like jazz and classical, Paul likes hip hop, Bob is a real indie kid and Alex is really into Greek folk music.” Sadly their new album has no MCing, scratching or duelling cretan lyras but it did reflect an appreciation for Glasgow’s musical heritage.
“The others were all into Glasgow bands like Orange Juice and Josef K, but growing up in Germany I didn’t listen to them as much. They’ve been a big influence on our sound, though.” The band in fact spent their formative months amongst the Glaswegian arts fraternity; they played as part of a Glasgow School Of Art exhibition, hosted gigs and art installations at their abandoned warehouse “Chateau” and hijacked Victorian courtroom (where they continue to live), accumulating both a cult following and police notoriety.
“We all met at a party two years ago,” said Nick, “Alex met Bob four years ago and apparently they hated each other because Bob was trying to be funny. Paul knew Alex already and when I met Alex at a party I stole his Vodka and we nearly came to blows.” Shortly after the abortive fight, Nick, then a classical pianist and double-bassist, agreed to play drums in the band before swapping to guitar. He now co-writes with lead singer Alex Kapranos and it seems the group had a musical affinity from the start.
The first thing you notice about the band at a live show is that they have their ‘look’ already. They are not waiting around to find their niche or embarking on Dawson’s Creekesque midnight trips to a lake to try and ‘find themselves’. Franz Ferdinand fill the stage with a swagger, they stand poised with their conscious self-image as great aesthetes. They had every look of being a band on the verge of an explosion, ready to punch the Strokes out of the arena.
Hopefully, in ten years, Franz Ferdinand will be elder statesmen of the rock game and not being picked out of a line-up on Never Mind The Buzzcocks or indeed a Police Station. They are, thankfully, a much better band than Menswear but whether they write their names in history for being a great band or, like their namesake the Austrian Archduke, become more famous for being shot down awaits to be seen.