Bowing in early 2004, Franz Ferdinand’s superb self-titled debut album hit at the exact right time. Modern American-rock radio was finally beginning to unearth itself from years of turgid nu-metal and was ready to embrace, if half-heartedly, arty indie acts such as Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the oh-so European dance-punk of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out,” which became one of the biggest hits of that summer. When the band’s follow-up, You Could Have It So Much Better, hit in the fall of 2005, the “alternative” zeitgeist had moved on to Fall Out Boy and their ilk, and the LP made much less of a splash—despite being nearly as hook-filled and groove-laden.
Now, more than three years later, the landscape has changed once again, though the Scottish quartet don’t tinker with the formula too drastically on Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Good thinking. Pleasing the masses is an inherently futile pursuit in the current, splintered environment. Sure, there are traces of electronica throughout opener “Ulysses,” and the band have cited African influences (seemingly obligatory post-Vampire Weekend) in prerelease press, but at its core, their third effort is essentially more of the undeniably enjoyable same.
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Which doesn’t mean it’s stale. The tweaks—“Lucid Dreams” was released as a tight, less-than-four-minute single last year; the album version is seven-and-a-half gloriously chaotic, inventive minutes—keep things sufficiently fresh, while numbers such as lead single “No You Girls” serve as well-executed reminders of what made the band so likable in the first place. Acoustic ballad “Katherine Kiss Me” recalls the previous record’s “Eleanor Put Your Boots On,” but it is even more stripped-down. It closes Tonight and truly completes it, achieving a satisfying balance by simplifying things while the rest of the album pushes forward.