The New Franz Ferdinand Proves The Scots Are Always Ascending
Scottish indie rockers Franz Ferdinand charmed their way into folks’ hearts and minds some fourteen years ago when their hit single “Take Me Out” could be heard through speakers around the world. The 2004 smash paved the way for their groundbreaking debut full-length, which came with “universal” critical acclaim and global name recognition for the Glasgow natives. Since then, Alex Kapranos and company have delivered with solid rock albums every few years or so. Today, they are one of the few acts left from the mid-2000s post-punk revival, still alive and kicking in a scene that has grown relatively quiet in recent years. No one LP, however, has been as well-received as Franz Ferdinand. That is, perhaps, until Always Ascending, which is set for release on February 9th, the fourteenth anniversary of the band’s seminal debut.
The record opens with its lead single and title track, which serves as the perfect marriage of the Brit.-rock from the band’s first two LP’s and the electronics-heavy “dance punk” of their last two. Bookended by a piano line at the song’s beginning and a massively dancy musical break at the end, and parsing with overdubs that help it literally “ascend” in sound, “Always Ascending” is a fantastic way to kick things off. Its back-end counterpart, closer “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow,” demonstrates the flip-side of this, with intriguing percussion and miscellaneous sounds taking place in the background.
Electronics remain in the forefront on much of Always Ascending, which is frontloaded with all kinds of killer cuts, from the meandering low-end of “Lazy Boy,” to the keys enhancing tunes like “Paper Cages” and the upbeat “Finally,” to the driving “Lois Lane,” which is particularly forceful at its conclusion. Together along with the quintet’s signature riffing, the prominent keys simultaneously channel the disco vibes of the late 1970s and the synth-pop era that ruled much of the 1980s. “Glimpse of Love” is a prime example of this.
Yet, the Scots still find a way to offer a fair amount of variety sonically, and consequently, the album’s highlights come on relatively different “types” of compositions. Take, for instance, the slower, spacey ballad (of sorts) in “The Academy Award.” Here, eerie synths are sure to send chills down your spine, if at no other point then on the song’s chorus. Meanwhile, the nasty “Huck and Jim” showcases Paul Thomson’s phenomenal drumwork, while the rest of the band vamps in a ¾ time signature on the verses and Kapranos brings a spoken vocal delivery throughout. For me, “Huck and Jim” is one of the strongest tunes the band has ever written, and if not for the lack of a reprise of the song’s infectious riff at the very end, it may have been even stronger. Of course, it would be foolish of me to use the term “nasty” and not call out the final highlight on the LP, “Feel the Love Go.” The record’s penultimate cut is an electro-grooving disco rocker that once again channels both the ‘70s and ‘80s. Just when it feels impossible to groove any more, a rambunctious saxophone lick kicks in about halfway through. This subtle dissonance sets the table for the glorious cacophony that ensues towards the end of the song.
Always Ascending may be a fresh take on the signature Franz Ferdinand sound, but in many ways it perfectly encapsulates those same vibes that the band’s eponymous debut encapsulated all those years ago. Much like 2004’s Franz Ferdinand, it is innovative and yet accessible. Its expansive intros and outros will put the listener in a trance without putting them to sleep. This is the Glasgow-based collective’s strongest effort since that heralded debut, and so to me, the fact that the two albums saw worldwide release 14 years apart (to the day) is rather poetic.