"I found a new way, baby," Alex Kapranos snarls on "Ulysses," Tonight's lead single and opening track, and he's almost right. Franz Ferdinand took awhile to record this album after releasing You Could Have It So Much Better as quickly as possible after their breakthrough debut, spending a couple of years coming up with the concept of a "dirty pop" album and trying out dance and pop producers like Erol Alkan and Girls Aloud sound-shapers Xenomania before settling on Dan Carey, who has worked with everyone from CSS to Kylie Minogue. The group tried hard to make these songs a deliberate break from their previous music, and the album is nothing if not deliberate: a concept album about a debauched night out and the morning after, Tonight is more focused than You Could Have It So Much Better, and on the surface, it sounds different than what came before. The band's normally de rigueur angular post-punk guitars are dialed down in favor of beats, bass, and lots of keyboards, all of which are on display on "Ulysses," which, like You Could Have It So Much Better's "Do You Want To?," initially sounds like an odd single choice, then makes perfect sense after a few listens. Kapranos whispers like a devil on your shoulder as the band takes its time building to disco-punk euphoria.
Throughout the rest of album, however, Franz Ferdinand alternates between putting their rave-ups in slightly different skins and taking some real chances with their music. With the most familiar-sounding songs at the top, Tonight's song sequencing might be the most pop thing about it: "Turn It On"'s stop-start rhythms,"Send Him Away"'s Afro-pop-tinged guitars, and "Can't Stop Feeling"'s DFA-like percussion and fuzzy synths are minor refinements on the sound the band has used since Franz Ferdinand. A few songs transcend templates, like the unrepentantly rakish swagger of "No You Girls," which boasts saucy lyrics like "kiss me where your eye won't meet me" and a cleverly twisting chorus that expresses the album's theme of smart enough to know better hedonism perfectly. "Live Alone"'s disco-fied push-pull between solitude and intimacy makes ambivalence exciting, and "Bite Hard"'s punchy drums are the sound of dancing on your conscience's grave. The band saves Tonight's most interesting songs for last: "Lucid Dreams" is oddly dark and jubilant, setting its fantasies to one of the album's boldest arrangements -- whether or not the way it trails off on a four-minute jam is successful is a matter of taste, but it's a welcome risk on an album that often feels safe despite its attempts to shake things up. Likewise, the way the acoustic closer "Katherine Kiss Me" transforms "No You Girls"' raw nighttime demands into wry daytime flirtation is so clever that it makes the rest of Tonight all the more puzzling -- it's often catchy and kinetic in the moment, yet it still feels like Franz Ferdinand has the potential to do more with their music than just slightly tweak and polish a sound they established several albums ago.