Album Review: FFS – FFS

FFS are a supergroup in the purest sense. Two musical acts, seperated by a generation, combining to release an album which will hopefully combine the best bits of their respective sounds. It’s particularly interesting for me though, as I’ve had contrasting fan-relationships with the two acts.

I liked Franz Ferdinand from the moment I heard them, as they spearheaded a brief Britpop revival, although in truth they were a cut above the majority of their ‘tie-rock’ contemporaries. Their first two albums remain classics of the era, however I have to admit they did lose me with Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and I’ve struggled to connect with them since.

By contrast, I took the scenic route to appreciating Sparks. I always knew that “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” was an amazing tune, but it wasn’t until about five years ago I felt confident enough to explore their output beyond their most famous song. Obviously, I utterly fell for their charms, particularly the Lil’ Beethoven, Hello Young Lovers and Exotic Creatures of the Deep trilogy, all of which left me vaguely ashamed that I’d never explored their work previously.

It would be easy to dismiss FFS as a sycophantic back-slapping exercise, like so many supergroups inevitably are, where the whole fails to equate to the sum of its parts. Would FFS be any different? After all, the two constituent parts at least have their musical integrity in their favour. maybe, just maybe, they could pull it off.

Opener “Johnny Delusional” has been the song that’s received the lion’s share of FFS’s airplay so far, and for good reason, as it blends the best parts of both Franz Ferdinand and Spark’s art-pop leanings. It’s easily one of the best singles of the year so far and it confirms that FFS is worthy of the over-used term ‘supergroup’.

Of course, given my historical relationship with Sparks and Franz Ferdinand, I wouldn’t have minded if things were skewed a little more towards the more senior group, however FFS are sonically a 50/50 blend of the two acts. It doesn’t mean it’s an album riddled with compromise either, as both elements get a lot out of the relationship, with Sparks maintaining the creative surge that they have been on since Li’l Beethoven and Franz Ferdinand raising their own game to record (to my ears at least) the best material they’ve been involved in since You Could Have It So Much Better.

Some tracks see the Mael Brothers take the sonic lead, such as on “Save me from Myself”, where a song like “Little Guy from the Suburbs” is shot through with the classic Franz Ferdinand sound (albeit one given a chamber pop sheen with Ron Mael’s keyboard wash). On certain tracks though, FFS sounds for all the world like a mash up of its constituent acts, with “Police Encounters” particularly benefitting from this approach. Vocally Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael blend together far better than you might expect them to, the pair of them acting as a sort of vocal tag team, often smoothly exchanging the lead vocal several times during the same song.

One result of listening to FFS that I didn’t expect is that, listening back to their early albums, its now howlingly obvious just how heavily Franz Ferdinand have been influenced by Sparks since the beginning of their career. Once heard, such a revelations cannot be unheard, and it’s has added an extra dimension to their albums that I hadn’t previously appreciated, even the ones I’ve struggled to appreciate down the years.

For their part, the Mael brothers have slightly tweaked their sound to assimilate that of their bandmate’s, making FFS sound like a true collaboration, and the best fun that all six band members have had for some time. Nowhere is this more obvious than “The Man Without a Tan”, a song shot through with the type of playful humour sadly lacking on most albums these days.

There are, perhaps inevitably, a couple of songs that don’t hit the spot for me. “Call Girl” may be FFS’s latest single, but on the album, as the second track it is hugely overshadowed by “Johnny Delusional”. Likewise, although “Things I Won’t Get” is a perfectly good song, it suffers as it immediately preceeds album highlight “The Power Couple”.

The absolute pinnacle of the album though is the winningly-titled “Collaborations Don’t Work”. Starting as a deft acoustic Franz Ferdinand tune in the style of “Eleanor Put Your Boots On”, it shifts to an orchestral pop number which would have sat snuggly on Hello Young Lovers, before Franz Ferdinand wrestle the tune into the form of one of their riffy hits, but then Sparks once again take the stylisitic lead, as the lyrics celebrate an independently lead life and the song continues to swing between the two trademark styles of its creators. Ultimately the title is a case of FFS protesting too much, as it’s absolute confirmation that this collaboration does work.

FFS closes with the aptly titled “Piss Off”, another grand example of exactly why this supergroup is anything but an exercise in ego-stroking, as it welds their two styles together so neatly that you can’t see the join. As a commercial tune, it’s at least the equal of “Johnny Delusional”, and is so good that it gives hope that this may not be a one off album.

Despite a couple of moments which aren’t as great as the rest of the album, FFS is certainly a cut above most supergroup albums, as the two constituent acts both give each other enough creatively maneauver, yet still meet each other in the middle, so it doesn’t sound like two seperate bands recording simultaeneously in the same studio. FFS works as both an album and a band because everyone concerned puts the effort in and pulls in the same direction simultaeneously. You know, the same way that all truly great bands do.

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