EXCUSE ME IF I’m repeating myself, but I could never work out why music had to be full of heart-on-sleeve emotions, or why it had to stay within such a strict lyrical brief revolving around falling in love and dealing with the fallout when it all goes wrong. As Zappa used to say (paraphrased of course), popular music keeps mental health professionals in work.
So, the fact that F.F.S doesn’t have even one conventionally love-oriented lyric is really becoming. In fact, this 12-song set is a perfect exposition of the breadth of subjects available to the modern songwriter, and given the wit to execute the lines, they’re geared to jolt the imagination and plaster a smile on the dial.
It comes as a shock that I find myself liking this collaboration between members of early 21st century post-punk/Beatles wannabes Franz Ferdinand and the indescribable 1970s duo of Ron and Russell Mael, otherwise known as Sparks. I’ve heard snapshots of Sparks over the past 40 years, but have never acted on recommendations to seriously explore their work, mainly because I had pegged them somehow as fey American would-be glamsters, and I was never a glam guy, even in 1972. On the other hand, I have listened closely to the prior work of Franz Ferdinand, and found them wanting. I’m surprised that members of FF even had an interest in Sparks, even more surprised that the two outfits can find common ground.
Although, it must be said, this is really a Sparks album, more than anything. Okay, you could blame FF for the chugging new wave influence on some songs, but that’s more Cars than Gang Of Four. Perhaps they’re responsible for the retro synth-pop elements that summon the ghosts of groups like the Yellow Magic Orchestra, but I doubt it. In some ways, it reminds me of a rather more doomed collaboration, that of 1970s singer-songwriter Kevin Ayers with Teenage Fanclub, except that 2007 album, The Unfairground, bore only his name, and was his tragic swansong. Everybody on F.F.S, on the other hand, sounds fighting fit and in the groove.
F.F.S has a similar nudge-nudge, wink-wink wit to the first 10cc album, although obviously seasoned by years of experience. Back in the mid-‘70s, no one would have batted an eyelid at the musical idiosyncracies of this album, but in today’s woefully conservative pop scene, it seems so eccentric that many might classify it as avant-garde, despite its memorable tunes and its general accessibility. It has a bit of Queen’s absurdist over-the-top Sunday school operetta about it, with intentionally gauche moments that the cool set will resist (of course), as will the roots set. I don’t care about them, and really, F.F.S is at heart an album to be enjoyed, to sing and laugh along with.
Unexpectedly imaginative, and with songs that make you think, “why don’t more songwriters come up with scenarios like these?” F.F.S is a genuine surprise, not just some faded old bastards getting together with an already fading bunch of young ‘uns. I especially liked the one about how collaborations never really work. Come again? GARY STEEL
Music = 4/5
Sound = 3.5/5