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Album Review: Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Always Ascending’

February 26th, 2018 | by Jack Gill
Album Review: Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Always Ascending’
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In the somewhat unstable current indie rock scene, ‘Franz Ferdinand’ are something of an urban legend. The quintet’s preppy art-rock style gained them a huge fan base during the golden years of riff-driven guitar music, with their huge singles such as ‘The Dark of The Matinee’ and the club-filling ‘Take me Out’ positioning the band as one of the pioneers of the movement. In their ability to blend post-punk guitars with witty indie lyrics, they also won the hearts of critics, with their self-titled 2004 album winning the coveted Mercury Award prize, as well as NME’s album of the year.

From such a widely successfully foundation, it is fair to say the band’s recent releases never quite built their sounds much higher, even if their 2015 collaboration with the underground 80s pop band, ‘Sparks’, did prove that they had an abrasive talent for disco and synth style tunes. And, perhaps, it is in these American pop rockers that lead man Alex Kapranos draws from most clearly in this new album, Always Ascending, a signed-and-sealed love note to 80s disco and synth rock alike.

The band gain a solid freedom like never before, establishing their ability to mix the stylish with the gritty, the nostalgic with the contemporary

These sonic maturations may be a result of the band’s altered line up with the founding guitarist, Nick McCarthy, leaving the band in July 2016. Of his two replacements, drummer Paul Thomson and bassist Julian Corrie, the band gain some innovation; Corrie has been renowned for his recent electronic productions under the name of ‘Miaoux Miaoux’. In this new influence, band a newfound relationship develops between keyboard and  guitar. This blossoming romance is clear in the title track, a epic five-minute opener that bursts into life in its mosaic midpoint, bringing together the band’s latest experimentations. In later track, ‘Lazy Boy’, the band tunes into the lyrical wit it has been so often renowned for. The divine ode to post-punk, with all the sounds of a bygone 80s chart topper, shows that Kapranos remains sharp-tongued in his vocal and lyrical execution. These talents are confirmed in ‘Huck and Jim’, where he channels a satirical desire to move the NHS and DSS to America. In ‘Lois Lane’, the synth-driven exposition, and use of keyboards in the chorus, establishes a tune that is as empowering as the female character of which the band sing.

These electropop formations assume a mediocrity in the band’s attempt to conclude their album, the disco sounds of ‘Glimpse of Love’ resonating as a sound too often pushed to the forefront in this forty-minute comeback album. Where the lyrical prowess of social spectates like ‘The Academy Award’, a criticism of self-indulgence in today’s social media, demonstrate the band’s political orientations, it loses our attention by the midpoint, and so again relies on the domineering synths to carry listeners to its conclusion.

Nonetheless, the band gain a sonic freedom like never before, establishing their ability to mix the stylish with the gritty, the nostalgic with the contemporary. While these balances grow tiresome by the albums latter stages, fans won’t grow weary of the Glaswegian rockers’ efforts.

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