Whether or not they mean it, ‘Always Ascending’ is exactly the mind-set Franz Ferdinand have embodied throughout their career. Never looking back, they’ve continued to focus on new material and evolve their sound, whilst their indie peers of the 00s have lived off early albums and failed to explore new territories.
Following their 2004 debut, it wouldn’t have been outlandish to call Franz Ferdinand one of the world’s biggest bands. They continued like this for 2005’s You Could Have It So Much Better before the fanfare died down for 2009’s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand and 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. However, their 2015 album with Sparks saw a renewed interest. Cut to now and Always Ascending has given the Glaswegians some major coverage for the first time in more than a decade.
Since their last LP, they’ve also had an interesting line-up change in the form of Julian Corrie, better known as synthpop producer Miaoux Miaoux. Long-time guitarist and co-writer Nick McCarthy left the band and opened up a more collaborative approach, compared to the usual Alex Kapranos/McCarthy songwriting the band had been accustomed to.
Recorded at RAK Studios, London and Motorbass in Paris, with the help of French producer Philippe Zdar (Cassius, Phoenix, The Beastie Boys), the producer’s touch has seeped into every groove and allowed Franz Ferdinand to broaden their palate. Kapranos refers to it as, “Simultaneously futuristic and naturalistic” and he’s pretty much hit the proverbial nail on the head.
Opening stomper ‘Always Ascending’ is already one of the tracks of the year and one of the best songs Franz Ferdinand have released in years. Corrie’s imprint is all over this as funky guitars mix with fascinating synthetic work. However, they still retain some of their roots with ‘Lazy Boy’ exhibiting the early sound of the band with its sharp guitars and minimalist lyrics that really do what they say on the tin. ‘Paper Cages’ follows in a similar vein, before the ‘The Academy Award’ references the world of online sexuality – acoustic guitar morphs into the strings and keyboards in what is a deeply melancholic number. ‘Lois Lane’ then comes along and possesses a similar vibe, with the pair of tracks not really fitting into the overall dancier framework of the album, but are still OK, nevertheless.
‘Huck and Jim’, meanwhile, bleeds out David Bowie influences and would be a brilliant composition if it weren’t for Kapranos rapping in the pre-chorus. This comes before what are two of the records finest tracks in ‘Glimpse Of Love’ and ‘Feel the Love Go’. The former is a hotbed of electropop disco in which Kapranos sings about the lonely search for emotional connection. Recent single ‘Feel The Love Go’ then extends that notion in what is another disco stomper, which features a vivid sax solo and should make for a terrific live show. Together, the pair clock in at almost 12 minutes and they both feature repetitive vocal lines which bring an anthemic quality to what is essentially the conclusion of the record.
Nothing short of a renaissance, Always Ascending is bursting with fresh sonic experimentation and reinvention. Franz Ferdinand’s fifth record is sleek, catchy, and an enjoyably listen.