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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Take Me Out" and the art of the slowdown

It's hard to pull off an energetic downward tempo shift, but that's exactly what Franz Ferdinand did, and I love it.

Yesterday's talk of how time is something rarely played around with in popular music got me thinking of the few hits that do explore different tempos. As I mentioned then, the songs that do make use of time changes make them fairly obvious, and this one is no exception. Nevertheless, it stands out because the place in which it changes time is quite unique.

I'd been sitting on talking about Franz Ferdinand's 2004 smash "Take Me Out" for a considerable amount of time, but I figured tonight was the right occasion. Not only does its defining moment continue my conversation on time, but I also heard an adaptation of the song yesterday, as the University of California Straw Hat Band played it during a break in Cal's men's basketball game against Washington State (a narrow loss). I love the way the Cal Band plays it just as I love Franz Ferdinand's original, and the way each pulls off the song's signature slowdown is my favorite moment across both bands' sizable catalogs. Go ahead and listen, and then I'll talk about that ridiculous ritardando (yay, alliteration!)

"Take Me Out" begins at a brisk 142 beats per minute, with its introduction setting up an energetic party scene where the narrator is looking to shoot his shot — lead singer Alex Kapranos extends that metaphor when he sings, "I'm just a crosshair / I'm just a shot away from you." Before long, though, Kapranos shifts the narrative focus to resignation: "I know I won't be leaving here with you." These two tones, of trying to pick up this person and knowing it won't work, alternate throughout the rest of the song, making the narrator's paranoia all too clear. It honestly makes me wonder if that paranoia itself would kill any chance of a successful pickup regardless...

...But, as you glean from earlier, the lyrical focus isn't what makes the song a personal favorite. It's that slowdown. Right after Kapranos finishes singing "with you," the band in unison begins to slow down for four full measures. During the slowdown, Kapranos, fellow guitarist Nick McCartney, and bassist Bob Hardy hold steady on the root note of E, grounding the tune in its key while its signature moment occurs. Meanwhile, drummer Paul Thompson's quarter-note kick drums make the slowdown both easy to follow and energetic, while his open hi-hats further add to the swell on the top end. The song then lands on its new tempo of 105 BPM with big unison hits and kick drums, before launching into a new riff and setting up its remaining three minutes.

The slowdown works so well on "Take Me Out" for three main reasons. Firstly, it comes at an unorthodox spot, but it's sold wholesale by the whole band to the point that it doesn't feel odd — it just feels fitting. Alex Kapranos has deemed their tempo decision "kind of the wrong way to do it, but it kind of works in that song." He's underselling it; the slowdown more than kind of works. Secondly, despite a 35 percent decrease in tempo, the song retains if not increases its energy throughout the four measures. I really hear Thompson's kick drum as doing a lot of work to keep up the energy. The kick has such a unique driving force in music; it solidifies a track's tempo by filling up the bottom of the sound, driving people to dance and jump more than any other instrument. Without Thompson's kick, the tune would feel suspended, and the slowdown wouldn't nearly be as impactful. Thirdly, the landing on the new tempo feels massive, with the aforementioned unisons and kicks introducing the bulk of the song that would be a great number all in itself, but feels even more impactful because of what comes before it.

The rest of the song capitalizes on the momentum lent by the slowdown, with two main riffs leading the way. The first is the aforementioned unison-led figure, and the second, immediately following it, helps outline the new chord progression. Whenever I listen to "Take Me Out," I hear the first riff in all its recurrences keeping the song so vibrant. The short unison hits are an impetus for jumping or quick, locking dance moves that just feel good to pull off. Everything combines to make a song that is just plain fun to listen to. I don't tend to use "fun" as the first word to describe a song, because I tend to favor more descriptive adjectives... but "Take Me Out" is fun, and there's no way around it. Rather, I embrace that about it.


Postscript — another lyrical meaning? Aside from the epic slowdown and what it does to the song, another fun thing about "Take Me Out" that I realized during my investigation today is how its lyrics can be seen as tying into the band's name. The real Franz Ferdinand was the Austrian archduke whose assassination by a Yugoslav nationalist began the conflict that ballooned into the First World War. Enter lyrics that include a "crosshair," being "just a shot away," and repeated endings of lines with "this could die," and you may get a very different perspective on just what "Take Me Out" (the line or the song... or both) means. I still tend to think about it in terms of the pickup narrative I described early on the article, but this other potential meaning is certainly food for thought.

1 Comment

一千花 中村
一千花 中村
Jan 04

just as I was hearing this song just know I had this exact though about how no one gives this song it's attention, people always talk about how good it is but I never see anyone talking about how well executed this slow down was, this was the first and only song I knew that had a slow down for years, yet most of it's attention is driven by nostalgia and guitar hero

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