The name Franz Ferdinand will undoubtedly have you thinking back to their timeless hit Take Me Out, from the Scottish indie rockers’ 2004 self-titled album. Since that accolade rich debut, they’ve regularly dropped new LPs every few years, but none ever really had the same impact, which often left listeners unsatisfied and with a cold feeling of what once was.
As such, expectations weren’t great for sixth LP Always Ascending, especially after the 2015 collab with American band Sparks and total bummer album FFS. Early release title track Always Ascending and follow on Lazy Boy shone some light on the album and showed signs the early days spark was making a comeback. Would it live up to the always popular Franz Ferdinand or not, was the big question.
Always Ascending sees a bit of a change in the band’s structure with the loss of Nick McCarthy on guitar and keyboard back in 2016 and the addition of Julian Corrie (guitar and keyboard) and Dino Bardot (guitar) to the three remaining original members, Alex Kapranos (vocals & guitar), Bob Hardy (bass) and Paul Thomson (drums).
Songs seem less guitar driven and with more synth presence, giving a cool electronic, disco vibe and a fresh feel. With extra hands on guitar, there was an expectation for more of that crunchy six-string sound throughout, and while that’s not necessarily the case, there’s just enough in there still.
What’s most attractive about Always Ascending, and Franz in general, is their easy going yet movement demanding vibe, formed from jangly upbeat instrumentals and simple yet extremely catchy lyrics for the most part. Movement is demanded and there’s something in there to entice it in even the most stubborn and stiff of bodies; it’s simply music to dance to.
Opening with whirlpooling title track, you know the obscure randomness and groovy beats that made Franz so appealing in the early days is back on the table. The upbeat fun is continued though the following couple of tracks Lazy Boy, Paper Cages and Finally.
By far the best track on the album, Lazy Boy is classic Franz in style, and the closest thing to Take Me Out on the album. It’s got a funky warped beat but still delivers those signature guitar riffs with simple yet catchy vocals that you can’t ignore.
The Academy Award sees a turn in tone, with a tempo reduction in its social commentary like digs. That mid-tempo is maintained into Lois Lane, and despite slightly depressing lyrics (more so for the 30+ audience), it’s hard not to enjoy the beat and join in on that closing verse.
Huck and Jim is a clever little dig at the current downfalls of US vs. UK culture and politics, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Kapranos’ attempt at rapping pre-chorus is questionable, something you’ll either appreciate or hate.
Feel the Love Go has a mellow industrial vibe to it before kicking into something of an electronic disco, another dance inducer. Penultimate track Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow felt like a bit of a letdown, and if you’re expecting a bang to close, don’t bother. It’s a fine enough track but it feels too mellow and the last half is more a gradual instrumental come down than a bang to close.
While Always Ascending feels better than previous albums, it still doesn’t live up to the bar set by their timeless debut. More and more it appears nothing they do will live up to that one.
Lazy Boy is to Always Ascending what Take Me Out was to 2004’s Franz Ferdinand, Do You Want To was to 2005s You Could Have It So Much Better or No You Girls was to 2009s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Others come close, including Always Ascending, Paper Cages, Feel The Love Go and Lois Lane, but Lazy Boy takes the cake.
If you’ve got a pulse, then you’re likely to find something to like about this album, there’s just too many groovy beats for at least one of them to not infiltrate your body. It’s great to finally have another good Franz album again and one likely to get a fair amount of play time once it hits your music library.