Domino, 2015


REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso


What FFS—the combination of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks—really excels at in comparison to other supergroups and collaborations is the unification of both constituent bands’ best qualities to fill gaps in the other band's musical style. Sparks have always been able to write terrific twisted pop tunes, but have often struggled at backing those tunes up with a band, usually relying on various synthesizers or stripping their style to a sterile near-minimalist form. Franz Ferdinand are a tight-knit rock band with the ability to give Sparks songs the biggest pop-rock oomph they've ever had.

On the other side of the coin, Franz Ferdinand have always seemed very tied to their indie-rock aesthetic without too much in the way of unique eccentricities to separate them from their peers. They're a good group with talented members, but it's easy to forget about them when there are so many other bands like them out there. Sparks are one of the most idiosyncratic pop acts you'll ever run across, injecting loads of their unique personality into Franz's typical sound.

It's not a stretch at all to suggest that the two bands “complete” one another. Since Franz lack a keyboardist and the only instrumentalist in Sparks is exactly that, the two acts make for a perfect musical fit. There is an overlap in the vocal department but they handle it in a fascinating way. Instead of simply taking turns singing different songs, or chiming in on harmonies every once in a while, Russel Mael and Alex Kapranos take the position of co-frontmen. They constantly trade off lines, often singing in unison or quickly jumping in for a phrase before passing the mic. It actually kind of reminds me of the way a rap group like the Beastie Boys handled having multiple frontmen. This makes it tricky to peel apart the songs and figure out where one band ends and the other begins.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Occasionally one personality does assert itself more than the other in some departments, but that's not a bad thing by any stretch. “Piss Off” is vintage Sparks for instance. From the uber-upbeat rhythm, to the sardonic lyrics, to a frantic series of tremendously catchy hooks it's got everything that made the band's ’70s work so great. But Franz Ferdinand make their mark here as well. Every instrument is playing something interesting throughout the whole song, bouncing off of one another in really entertaining ways. An older Sparks song would have never had that sort of interplay, and it pushes the song to a new level. Tracks like “Johnny Delusional,” “Police Encounters,” and “Call Girl” pull off the same tricks and are every bit as infectious.

“Collaborations Don't Work” is FFS at their most self-aware, which is saying something for these guys. It's structured as a rambling miniature epic, not unlike Sparks songs like “Dick Around.” I always find those kinds of songs entertaining and this is no exception. It makes the biggest statement on the album (even if it's an ironic one), and it takes a deserving position as the album's big centrepiece.

The record does dip a bit in the middle, songs like “So Desu Ne” and “The Man Without A Tan” come across as a bit clumsy and awkward without as much in the way of big killer hooks to make up for it. And slower tunes like “Things I Won't Get” don't do much to grab my attention. But even these still have entertaining lyrics and some solid tunes. It's also worth mentioning that the deluxe edition of FFS contains four great bonus tracks that could have easily been slotted in on the record. If you're at all interested in this album the deluxe edition is well worth your time.

I think it's a compliment in this case to say that FFS is equal to the sum of its parts. Both bands’ personalities stacked on top of one another results in a hybrid that is at its best hyperactive, sarcastic, loud, in your face, and a ton of fun to listen to. It's everything I could have wanted from the pair and I really hope that we'll get to hear more from FFS in the future.

Rating: A-

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© 2015 Ken DiTomaso and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Domino, and is used for informational purposes only.