On the surface, the recently released collaboration album between L.A.-based duo Sparks and
Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand may seem like a harmless bit of musical exploration by two bands whose glory days are a bit behind them. For Sparks, their UK mega-popularity of the '70s, and brief dalliance with the U.S. Top 40 in the early '80s, has given way to a devoted cult following on both sides of the Atlantic, even as the duo dabbled in the operatic arena on 2009's The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. Franz Ferdinand, by comparison, have seen sales steadily decline on each of their last three albums after the breakout platinum success of their slf-titled 2004 debut effort.
So what may have begun as a mutual appreciation society of sorts between two veteran bands whose careers have reached a certain commercial plateau has actually charted the potential future path of popular music, taking a page from the rap and hip hop community where collaborative efforts (any current chart hit with a "featuring" immediately following the name of the main artist) are a common practice designed to promote new artists and allow established artists to build street cred as Taylor Swift did by working with a then-relatively unknown Ed Sheeran.
What Franz Ferdinand and Sparks have done with the release of FFS is show just how beneficial to both acts a well-executed collaboration can be, both creatively and commercially.
It opens the doors to bands of all stripes pursuing their own mutually beneficial collaborations and, in doing so, injecting a sense of the unknown into the otherwise predictable cycle of touring and recording. In the case of FFS, I am a huge Sparks fan, but I tend to take Franz Ferdinand on an album-by-album basis, but because the FFS album is such a masterfully inspired album, I find myself diving into Ferdinand's back catalog with a little more fervor and understanding of where they're coming from.
Of course, where Sparks and Franz Ferdinand truly shine together is in the live setting, as anyone who has been fortunate enough to see the two bands perform together in Europe can certainly attest.
Thanks to Youtube, of course, I too have been "in attendance" at a few of these shows, most notably the Paris show from June 26 posted above where the voices of Russell Mael and Alex Kapranos blend perfectly to create playful harmonies that inject a real energy into the material no doubt being heard for the first time by a large segment of the audience.
Perhaps in the very near future, we'll see a band like My Morning Jacket cutting a record with Sigur Ros or Death Cab For Cutie performing onstage with Bolt Thrower (okay, maybe that one's a long shot), all the while fans of both bands are treated to something entirely new and the artists themselves are moved from complacency to inspiration and the results provide both the artists and the fans with a reason to be fanatic about music again.
Thing is, you don't have to be a big-name band to indulge in such large-scale collaborations. Think of the local band that's been slugging away on the club scene, stuck in "opening act" limbo. Perhaps teaming with another band (who might be in a similar position themselves) could very well be the best way to break through the proverbial glass ceiling and take things to the next level. At the very least, combining the followings of both bands means any such project comes with a built-in audience that is larger than if each band was simply making their own album or playing a show on their own.