Franz Ferdinand Always Ascending
Franz Ferdinand’s fifth proper studio album—its first since 2013, though let’s not continue to overlook its worthwhile 2015 effort with Sparks—begins with an airy, synth-led fantasia that goes on for more than a minute, just enough time for you to question whether it’s actually the Scottish quintet on the recording. But then “Always Ascending” suddenly transforms into a thumping, cocksure disco-punk monster that not only reaffirms that you’re in fact listening to Franz Ferdinand, but makes you ask yourself if there’s been a Franz Ferdinand song this enrapturing since its breakout 2004 single, “Take Me Out.”
In a way, the shot of adrenaline that is “Always Ascending” introduces its same-named album much like the irresistible “Take Me Out” introduced us to the band itself. But much like that Franz Ferdinand of 14 years ago, Always Ascending—contrary to title—peaks too early. The next two songs offer more promise, as the rolling bassline of “Lazy Boy” sets up an oddly addictive, if repetitive chorus, and “Paper Cages” vamps it up with an earthy, Roxy Music-like ebullience. But those seductive melodies and rhythms don’t return until the album’s climax, leaving us with mid-album speedbumps that carry Kinksian pluck but lack tunefulness (“Finally”), or exhibit lyrical playfulness but veer too musically close to contemporaries like Wolf Parade and New Pornographers (“Lois Lane”), or just confound with awkward cultural references, especially its trap-like hi-hats (“Huck and Jim”).
If that suggests that Franz Ferdinand is all over the place, well, it is. After the departure of founding guitarist Nick McCarthy, and the addition of synth/guitar player Julian Corrie (aka Miaoux Miaoux) and guitarist Dino Bardot, the band sought to follow creative impulses rather than favoring its previously taut aesthetic, further enabled by producer Philippe Zdar (Cassius, Phoenix). The result is a looser, enlivened—and less consistent—Franz.
Always Ascending does climb back up with the ABBA-esque “Glimpse of Love” and the jangly hip-jerker “Feel the Love Go,” both sure to enhance setlists and rouse audiences. Depending on how you look at it, there’s either a delightful EP to be carved out here, or an LP whose experiments need just a little more time in the lab.