This week: Franz Ferdinand wallows in anguish, Ryan Adams rebounds, and Big Star returns
The second album picks up where the first left off, prancing down its post-punk melodies with as much cocksure coolness and maybe even more unbridled energy. Right from the start, “The Fallen” stings with raw, combustibleguitars and utter danceability. The lyrics rave about rebellion and tinker with biblical jargon, but who cares about the words when the beats rock this hard? “Do You Want To” echoes the playfulness of “Take Me Out,” seesawing between noisy keyboarding and sliding guitar builds.
Pretty much all but three songs are upbeat romps, and at least one of those exceptions pulls off the serious thing. “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” pairs a Beatlesque sweetness with synth keyboard balladry and dreamy, nearly romantic lyrics.
Oddly, the recurring theme of Better seems to be post-break-up anguish, with several songs referring to missing, leaving and second-guessing someone. But Franz doesn’t let dismal lyrics get in the way of its good-timing ways, and it doesn’t want you to, either.
How they put up with your antics, I have no idea, but your band is so damn good they sound like The Band or Neil Young’s Crazy Horse. The pedal steel keeps things achy-breaky, and the way Catherine Popper’s background vocals haunt the empty spaces is just stunning.
You’re finally hitting on what Ryan Adams sounds like when he’s not trying to be Paul Westerberg or The Grateful Dead. He’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, with some mountain man and trailer trash thrown in for good measure. And if you’d lay off the drugs and booze (and shave that stupid beard) and practice crafting songs instead of churning them out like every record will be your last, you might earn some respect to go along with the fame. Jacksonville City Nights is a big step in the right direction. Yours,
Nine out of 10 music snobs revere the Memphian band for its heavyweight contributions to all things power-pop. Even after all these years, its cult following remains loyal, and its old albums still sell. With the metallic cool of a key jammed into an electrical outlet, Big Star ushered volts of ’60s British Invasion into America’s jingle-jangle ’70s. With holy rock ‘n’ roller charisma, it preached the gospel of pop to an A-list of disciples that included R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements and the Posies. In fact, two members of the latter eventually joined the band themselves.
And like nine out of 10 bands that attempt a comeback, Big Star is probably making a mistake. Although In Space starts out with a wink and a nostalgic promise—the first four tracks saunter in confidently, fueled by Big Star’s classic roll-the-windows-down charm—the sincerity doesn’t last long. Track five, “Love Revolution,” is a cliché of cheesy funk, with throwaway lyrics and cut ‘n’ paste instrumentals. It’s easy and it’s amusing, but it’s also frustratingly mediocre. The fluff continues with a cover of the Olympics’ 1962 hit, “Mine Exclusively,” and other assorted filler that surely doesn’t do justice to three decades worth of what should’ve been suppressed creativity. There’s no debating whether Big Star is an important band. Whether it has anything important left to say is a wholly different argument.