The most recent from the Scottish-rockers, Franz Ferdinand, proves that the band has not yet lost their edge in music and are one of the greatest bands to come out of 2000’s – who are still balanced and relevant to this day. We last heard from them in 2016, when they took aim at then-Republican nominee, Donald Trump, with “Demagogue” in their involvement with the 30 Days, 30 Songs resistance project during the 2016 Presidential Election.
Always Ascending is a fresh start for the group, after founding member, Nick McCarthy, left the band in 2016. McCarthy was replaced by Dino Bardot (1990s) who had no involvement with the new album and Julian Corrie (Miaoux Miaoux), who contributes greatly to the modern sound. Even though the band is polishing their music and lost their lead guitarist, they have not yet lost their signature jagged guitar riff style and the approach of evolving. They have always been making dance music, but here, it’s fresh and surprising.
The opening titled track shows Franz at their most genius. The intro of “Always Ascending” shows a soft piano with layered background vocals as the synths show word painting of the music sonically rising and ascending slowly before it all suddenly drops, with tight instrumentals. It showcases the auditory illusion of the Shepard tone, which makes the pitch of the music sound like its ascending or descending, when really its staying the same. “Lazy Boy” is a classic Franz track, but its so damn lazy lyrically. The vocals are however catchy, especially when you’re contemplating about skipping an 8:00 a.m class and frontman, Alex Kapranos’s voice pops up in your head singing “Am I gonna get up? Am I gonna get up, get up?” The groovy guitar after the first verse is especially reminiscent to the early days with McCarthy as guitarist and its funk riff makes you want to kick and stomp like you’re Alex Weir from Stop Making Sense. “Paper Cages” continues this trend, but blends that punchy riff with some bouncy and shadowy synths – reminiscent to certain new wave bands such as Talking Heads and Duran Duran. “Finally” is similar to “Always Ascending” with its firm instrumentals. Its buzzy and dancy synths and keys spiral like they were initiated from a launch pad. On the epic “The Academy Award” there are powerful elevating synths, similar to “The Murder” screeching string section from Psycho (1960). It could also be a sister track to “The Universe Expanded,” from Franz’s past album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (2013). In a tremendous segue, “The Academy Award” transitions into the electropop “Lois Lane,” which deals with a “pretty strong woman” journalist who wants to change the world, but cannot. It’s nostalgic to the style on Tonight (2009), but it’s the first time the band used a fictional character they wrote about it in their songwriting. “Huck and Jim” is one of the more energetic and heavier synth tracks, where in the pre-chorus, Kapranos sounds like how he did during the bridge of “Auf Achse” off Franz’s debut album. And he sounds like he’s Blondie rapping or imitating Mark Mothersbaugh on the Devo’s “Time Out for Fun” – which all points to styles never done before by the group. The song deals with Huckleberry Finn and Jim and the NHS (National Health Service) in England. “Glimpse of Love” sounds like it could’ve been a huge disco hit in the late seventies, which includes some immensely clean and choppy Nile Rodgers guitar chords. “Feel the Love Go” sends you on a synth-wave disco whirl – one which lasts forever on the dance-floor – with a sax solo from Terry Edwards (The Higsons and Gallon Drunk); so far being one of the best tracks of 2018. The closer, “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow,” is a great departure from the rest of the songs. In spite of the minimal droning and effects over the drums, the song sounds like a combination of the Carpenters and Franz’s own “Fade Together,” mostly when Kapranos rises in his vocals singing “Slow, don’t kill me slow / don’t kill me slow / no, never never no, don’t kill me slow.”
As the group captures you with a sensual vocal approach from Kapranos and has you dance until there is no more groove box – this is the most inconsistent arrangement from the group. There are awkward transitions, slow tracks that are out of touch with the main sound, and repetitive lyrics. Despite those elements, this album is elegantly strong, well produced, which you can tell where the band focused the most on.
After five studio albums, Franz proved how consistent and ordinary they are. They’re natural contrarians, who always standout. With a change in dynamics, this is a new band.
Favorite tracks: : “Always Ascending,” “Finally,” “Lois Lane,” “Huck and Jim,” “Feel the Love Go”
Least favorite tracks: “Paper Cages,” “The Academy Award,” “Glimpse of Love”
You can listen to Franz Ferdinand’s Always Ascending here.