Sparks famously sang “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us” on their 1974 hit and occasionally on this collaboration between themselves and Franz Ferdinand, it does seem to ring true. Billed as the pop partnership that art school students have been waiting for since Take Me Out stormed the charts in 2004, FFS can come across a little strong at times – a tour de force of one-upmanship. There are still plenty of gems to be found within however – and approached with a smile and your favourite dancing shoes, plenty of enjoyment to be had.
Just weeks after another evening of Eurovision shaming for the United Kingdom, it becomes clear from a few seconds of opening track Johnny Delusional that FFS would have faired much better with their intellectual glam-pop blend. If Australia are allowed to enter then I’m sure the judges wouldn’t have minded the Los Angeles presence of the Sparks duo.
Franz’s knack for a catchy hook is still very much present and second track Call Girl would easily fit onto any of the band’s previous efforts. Sparks though have managed to ramp up the melodrama – and anything else they could get their hands on – to eleven point five, creating an album that veers from eerie synth singalongs to pulsating disco anthems. Dictator’s Son is a mad four minute ride that perhaps best articulates the attributes of both acts, while Save Me From Myself would make a fitting end to a rebooted Mask of the Opera, possibly starring Julian Barratt as the lead.
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There are more reflective moments on the record to contrast the romp and Little Guy From The Suburbs could touch the nerve of many a disenchanted commuter with it’s line “There are no heroes in this life”. Fellow art-rocker Bowie would argue otherwise, at least just for a day. On the gentle, self-acknowledging Collaborations Don’t Work, FFS poke fun at their own project, and for those who the album falls on flat ears, they have a simple message on the concluding track, Piss Off.
Lyrically you feel that Sparks have adopted the role of the smirking uncle, giving their nephew their first coming-of-age sip of alcohol and sitting back to see what happens. Songs about dictator’s sons, brushes with the law and the previously mentioned Piss Off give the impression that both bands’ relished the chance to egg each other on and see how far they could take things. The lyrical conclusion is a mix of intellectualism, lust and tongue-in-cheek back and forths between the two lead singers.
Timing wise, the collaboration was probably greedily eaten up by both acts, and not just for artistic reasons. Despite 2013’s impressive LP, Franz are no longer the festival headlining act they were and can afford to dabble is more esoteric sounds. While Sparks have always enjoyed the chance to bewilder the general public, so teaming up with a modern act gifts them the chance to say hello to a new generation of fans. And it certainly would be a shame if FFS missed out on some radio air time with this record, as there are moments of eccentric pop brilliance to be found, you just need to feel your way through the woods first to get there.