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San Francisco Sidewalk Collaboration 

Franz Ferdinand and Sparks may end their collaboration right where it all started.

Wednesday, Oct 7 2015

Ever since Scottish band Franz Ferdinand burst onto the scene with its self-titled debut and worldwide hit single "Take Me Out" more than a decade ago, two of its biggest fans have been L.A. brothers Ron and Russell Mael, better known as avant-garde pop act Sparks. The two bands expressed an immediate interest in working together, but according to Russell Mael, it took San Francisco to make it finally happen.

"When we had done the Two Hands One Mouth tour in 2013, we were just strolling on our own in San Francisco one afternoon," Mael says. "We saw someone walking down the street that we thought looked a lot like Alex [Kapranos, Franz Ferdinand's lead singer and guitarist], and it turned out it was. They'd played the night before and were still in San Francisco. We said 'hi' and went, 'Hey, whatever happened to that thing we talked about 11 years prior?'"

The result of that chance sidewalk encounter is one of this year's best albums, the wittily titled FFS. The six collective members bring all their talents to bear, combining everything from Ron Mael's catchy keyboards and wry worldview, to Franz Ferdinand's driving, danceable take on what a rock band can be. Add in Kapranos and Russell Mael's perfect back-and-forth singing turns, whether song for song or within them, and the result is a perfect treat for the summer. After performances throughout Europe and Asia, FFS's American tour will culminate in its Fox Theatre show in Oakland next Thursday, Oct. 15.

"Before we got together to rehearse for the tour," remembers Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson, "we'd decided to play songs from each other's back catalog. The four of us were listening to all the records, figuring out the arrangements. We've always been interested in disco/house music, something dictated by a 4/4 rhythm, which fits songs like 'The Number One Song in Heaven' and 'When Do I Get to Sing "My Way."' Then you go back even earlier to the glam hits, and that material is more sort of arrangement based. It's not even more remotely prog rock, but they have crazy time signatures, tempos, they're really different kind of songs."

Both Russell Mael and Thomson say they're happy about how the overall recording and collaboration went. One of the album's key songs is the hilarious "Collaborations Don't Work," a song that served as a kind of rehearsal for the full project.

"We had written that song and given it to Franz Ferdinand," notes Russell Mael. "Lyrically, we thought there was something provocative about it, but in our mind it was in good spirits. Oh, by the way, collaborations don't work — we thought there was something appealing about that. Also, it wasn't a typical verse/chorus sort of pop song. It's a song that wouldn't necessarily be ideal material to do at 30,000 people festivals, but we do that and it gets a really warm reception!"

Other FFS songs that have been crowd-pleasers include "Piss Off," a celebration of staying in at night solo — look on YouTube for the band whipping up the crowd at the U.K.'s legendary Glastonbury festival with that one. There's also the sweeping lead single "Johnny Delusional" and the increasingly frenetic "Police Encounters." The latter may be the only recent song about the police that's downright giddy, with the song's narrator hauled away to a chorus of "Bomp bom diddy diddy" after looking at a cop's wife the wrong way.

Add in the older hits from both acts and this final night of the U.S. tour promises to be nothing short of special, especially since it's the final FFS date currently announced. If it all ends here, across the Bay from where it all began, that only seems fitting — and Thomson, in particular, still seems a little amazed by it all as he thinks about one regular number in the sets.

"It's a bit of a trip for us to play 'Achoo' [a Sparks hit from the 1974 album Propaganda] because when Franz Ferdinand originally tried to get together, like any band you do some cover versions," he says. "We did the Fall, Roxy Music, and Sparks was another. We didn't know yet what the sound of the band was, and we attempted to do 'Achoo,' but our abilities were fairly limited, and the arrangement was too hard for us. So it's nice that 10, 11 years later we finally have the musical ability to play it — and onstage with Sparks! If you told me that in 2002, I'd tell you to fuck off!"


About The Author

Ned Raggett


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