When it was first announced that Franz Ferdinand and Sparks were going to collaborate it was kind of taken with a pitch of salt; neither band had done anything notably special on record for a good 10 years, so how them collaborating on record could inspire more was a difficult one to imagine.
Step up the album; self-titled as the band somewhat hilariously take on the FFS mantel, and everyone is left surprised, it’s actually really good!
It seems both acts have blessed each other with a real lease of life, yes there are some utterly question efforts squeezed on there, but the most part it’s the best thing either act have touched in years.
This lease of life is shown on stage too, in their first ever live venue show; making a triumphant entrance to the venue space where Franz played their first ever gig, albeit somewhat revamped, Nick McCarthy leading the way sporting the biggest beamer you’ll see all night.
They open with ‘Police Encounters’, which acts as a nice warmer for the crowd, as the band ease into their dynamic, both Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael looking ecstatic to be here; the former glancing over his shoulder at the Sparks frontman seemingly checking if this is actually real, while the latter seems to just be reassured by having a new set of material that has strong credentials about it.
Ron Mael portrays the same image he has for his band’s five decade spanning lifetime, sat sternly behind his keyboard without any sign of emotion, yet still brilliantly intimidating, intense and engrossing; all the while Bob Hardy lingers awkwardly behind him.
The majority of the album has Sparks written all over it, yes there is the odd Franz stomp and Kapranos’ smug baritone, while some of the lyrics are quite hard to place between Russell Mael’s absurdities and Kapronos’ sometimes odd turns of phrase.
Single ‘Johnny Delusional’ gives us the first real glimpse at how spectacular Russell Mael’s falsetto still is, it’s hard to believe how good it actually is and how much energy he puts across the stage at the age of 66.
One of the better tracks on the album, the pretty amusing ‘Collaborations Don’t Work’, maintains the energy between the two frontmen and allows the first crack in Ron Mael’s persona, along with a huge cheer, as every member takes a line, before the first forage into the individual band’s back catalogues, as Franz’s bounce along anthem ‘Do You Want To’ proves a hit with both old and young in the audience, this is followed a couple of songs later by Sparks’ ‘When Do I Get To Sing “My Way”’.
The buzzing funk of ‘Call Girl’ gives way to the sheer dramatic anthem that is Sparks’ defining hit ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ as the full crowd get dragged off into some kind of intense world where Sparks are somehow improved by the presence of big Alex K and co.
Things disappear slightly with the ridiculous ‘Dictator’s Son’, which sees the frontmen rhyming “Harris tweed” with “Bundesliga”, “Instagram” with “bands who jam”, along with all other sorts of silly nonsense.
Franz classic ‘Take Me Out’ powers proceedings up again, before perhaps the strongest track of the album ‘Piss Off’, which apparently has been written nigh on a decade, that comes closest to classic Sparks as we’re likely to see these days, brings us confidently into the encore.
The band return with a switch around in set up as Paul Thomson switches to an electric kit and Ron Mael emerges sporting a “border line attractive for afar” tee for ‘So Desu Ne’, before perhaps the biggest sing along of the night comes in the form of Sparks classic ‘The Number One Song In Heaven’, which culminates in Ron Mael taking centre stage almost leering at the crowd, before the entire rest of the band take on percussion duties for him to perform a cheesy wee dance and crack and cheery looking smile, which in turn is met by the biggest reaction of the night.
Proceedings are closed off by a rather impressive, synth heavy rearrangement of Franz hit ‘Michael’ before the six members collect centre stage to take a bow.
For two bands that were somewhat living from their back catalogues, albeit one rather more expansive than the other, this is a real turn in fortunes; it appears that both band’s have found some sort of lease from each other and it’s one that’s more than welcome.
Words: Iain Dawson
Photos: Elina Lin