Album review: Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending

Having released their first four albums within nine years, Franz Ferdinand return with their fifth album after an absence of five years (not counting 2015’s collaborative FFS/Franz Ferdinand Sparks). It’s also their first without founding member, guitarist and songwriter Nick McCarthy. So how will the band fare now that it’s singer Alex Kapranos handling most of the songwriting alone?

The pre-album ‘singles’ and TV appearances have been promising, with the sound edging more towards New York new wave and post punk, more Talking Heads than XTC (just imagine David Byrne singing pre-album single “Feel the Love Go”…). It has less of a dancey sound than the previous album, vocals are clear in the mix, guitars perhaps slightly less prevalent than before though very much still essential, keyboards and percussion fleshing out the tunes to a much greater level. The production and mix (by Frenchman Philippe Zdar of Cassius fame) is very sympathetic towards the songs. The songs mix the simplistic to the interpretational in their lyrical approach, “Lazy Boy” is virtually a nursery rhyme for lay-ins whilst “Always Ascending” is possibly an ode to the departed McCarthy?

Like many bands, some of FF’s early identity seems lost, along with the essence of what attracted their fans in the first place. Their sound is more mainstream than ever before. That’s not really a criticism, it’s a rare band or musician that can maintain their individuality, especially when the pressure’s on to deliver a hit. And ultimately the band do deliver here. The album might be a little singular in pace, but the sound is strong, the songs generally solid and hook laden. The quirkier moments for me stand out the most; “Finally” with it’s shift in pace and odd hooks and “Huck and Jim” has a guitar-driven intro that turns out to be a soundtrack for the chorus, there’s shift in gear, creepy lyrics and invention.

Elsewhere “The Academy Award” is an odd little song about the clamour for approval that the world of social media creates amongst its users, the imagery is clever, but the track is an example of the band losing some of it’s individuality, musically speaking. Maybe that’s the point? “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow” is a creeping ballad of sorts, for me it invokes some of the last David Bowie photographs and has a Bowie-esque sheen in the guitar and keyboard arrangements. There is some filler (“Lois Lane”), and while “Glimpse of Love” is awash with keyboards but ends up being the most typically FF track.

Still, I have to say the album is better than you’d expect from a band who’ve taken 5 years to get there. It’s solid, occasionally inventive, though perhaps not as hit laden as previous Franz Ferdinand albums, but I’m glad they’re back and I hope another one comes along in decidedly less than 5 years. Why not pop round your local Richer Sounds and hear the new album for yourself in our demo room?





Author: Ian, Romford store