Album Review: Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending

Friday, February 9, 2018

When Franz Ferdinand first emerged into the popular consciousness with their 2004 self-titled debut, their sound was a beacon of smartly delivered, urgent guitar rock. They helped define the musical stylings of the mid-noughts on the strength of singles like 'Take Me Out', 'This Fire', and 'Michael'.

Though the Glaswegian band has faced an uphill battle — critics and fans alike prone to comparisons crowded in nostalgia — whatever they do next, people can’t help but look back at what came before. It’s the curse of having such a strong debut.

The band themselves seem cognizant of these critiques and, on their latest album Always Ascending, they’re engaged in a conscious effort to get people thinking more about what’s to come. Vocalist/guitarist Alex Kapranos initially teased Franz Ferdinand's fifth studio album in an inteview with NME, saying: “We wanted to take the sounds that are available to us now and make the sound that you haven’t heard before — the sound of the future. When you’re recording in 2017 you need to be looking ahead to the next thing. What haven’t people even heard in 2018?”

It’s a lofty ambition and not one they’ll ever find easily achievable. It may be the sounds of what’s to come, but it inevitably still sounds like a Franz Ferdinand album. They could change their entire record to the music of bongos and whale calls, but throw in Kapranos’ distinctive Scottish lilt and you’re going to know who’s making it.

But try, they must, and Always Ascending is noticeably a shift away from the guitars they emerged with. Following the 2016 departure of Nick McCarthy, the band has instead, fully embraced keyboards and electronics with help from two new members, Julian Corrie and Dino Bardot. It’s a sound they’ve toyed with in the past (see 2009’s 'Lucid Dreams' and 2013’s 'Stand on the Horizon') but it’s generally been buried in their records. On their new album though, they open with it — the opener and title track 'Always Ascending' quickly sheds its slow start for a full-on electronic assault. They’ve officially and purposefully brought their aspirations of disco revivalism to the forefront.

It suits them, too. Where mid-2000s guitar rock contemporaries like Arcade Fire also tried to go disco on 2017’s Everything Now, it seems far more genuine coming from Franz Ferdinand. Songs like 'Glimpse Of Love' and slinky second single 'Feel The Love Go' (featuring impressive drumming from Paul Thomson) deliver it in spades — the latter also providing Franz Ferdinand’s first ever saxophone solo. To their credit, they’ve managed to find a dance floor friendly sound that’s far less self-aware and certainly less pretentious than Arcade Fire’s efforts.

This isn’t to say Franz has completely done away with the use of guitars, either. 'Paper Cages' is a retro flashback to assumed memories of 60s-era diners and 'The Academy Award' is about as close to a folk song as they may ever get.

'Lois Lane', meanwhile, is indicative of the influence from 70s art rockers Sparks. The song’s airy synth line, vocal harmonies, and chant-along lyrics harken back to their 2015 collaborative record FFS. It’s also bound to hit close to home, with the lyrics “it’s bleak at the over 30s singles night” speaking straight to their early-adopter demographic.

This album may ultimately not succeed in bringing more fans to the fold of Franz Ferdinand, but it will absolutely provide good material for all the festivals they’re bound to show up at. This is a good thing. When they’re on stage, they genuinely shine.

If anything, Always Ascending gives Franz Ferdinand ample stage material for a set already and forever fleshed out with their greatest hits. Nostalgia is one hell of a funny thing, huh?

Written by Sarah Rix

You can purchase Always Ascending here or stream it below: