by Alex Marchante
Nearly a decade and a half has passed since Glasgow band Franz Ferdinand released their hit single “Take Me Out” as part of their first, self-titled album in 2004. In 2018, the band released Always Ascending, their fifth studio album and first effort after the departure of original band member Nick McCarthy who provided backup guitar and keyboard to the band.
In the ensuing replacement of McCarthy with Julian Corrie (also known as Miaoux Miaoux) and the third guitarist in the band, Dino Bardot, the British quintet collaborated to create this album. Although the reviews of Always Ascending were nothing to rave about, receiving unremarkable scores of 6.9 out of 10 from Pitchfork, three stars out of five from The Guardian, and four stars out of five from NME, the narrative and making of Always Ascending is an interesting transformation of the band’s style, for better or for worse.
Over the course of the last 18 or so months, Franz Ferdinand has established a new type of product. Following the departure of Nick McCarthy and the addition of Julian Corrie and Dino Bardot, the band’s release of Always Ascending seems to illustrate a change in genre from their former identity as part of the early-21st century Brit indie rock movement to a more dance-punk identity.
Take the singles from the new album and compare them to single from their previous work, 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. There is a stark contrast in the energy, tempo and instrument work between the works. Although “Right Action” contains elements of a discotech dance tune, its musical core is built from a funky, almost new age Doors-esque instrumental with the repeated use of layered guitars.
In contrast, the title track of the new album focuses rhythmic drumming and the background’s audio illusion of a never-ending staircase to fit into the wordplay of the song’s title. Even then, if there’s a comparison with the second single of the album, “Feel The Love Go”, to the band’s prior work, there’s an unmistakable shift into electronic rock and a hint of retro glam rock. The band’s old identity is better merged into the new style with the final single, “Lazy Boy”, although the track’s shorter and more repetitive.
The issue I feel that critics had with this album is its inconsistency and lack of cohesion, especially when looking at the themes of the songs. Also, I feel that Alex Kapranos’ vocals almost sound like other artists in the album. For instance, the deeper, shakier vocal shifts in “Huck And Jim” made me mistake the track for something that Beck would have created years ago, especially in the rhythm changes from verse to chorus.
Similarly, I feel that “Feel The Love Go” could have easily been taken from something created by David Bowie in the 80s and that “Finally” could have been done by Jim Morrison to the same result. Also, when mentioning “Lazy Boy” and its feeling of old Franz Ferdinand style, it’s the only track in the album that feels that way.
This isn’t to take away from the value of Always Ascending, some of the work on the album is terrific, such as “Finally” and its chemistry with Paul Thomson at drums and Alex Kapranos at vocals with brief stints of layered acapella that build into the chorus. “Lois Lane” is a quirky track that surprisingly works well with the sense of admiring someone in solitude and spite. However, the album and the order of the track list seems off at times.
The change obviously occurred when the band decided to allow new member Julian Corrie to stay in his techno-heavy style, with bassist Bob Hardy saying in an interview, “Julian’s first love is techno and we weren’t scared to embrace what he’s best at”.
In fact, the band seemed to take fun in evolving into their new identity, with Kapranos saying in the same interview, “We had those sorts of conversations that imaginary bands have all over again. What would this band do? What kind of music is it going to make? I love that stuff, it’s exciting.”
The judging critics dealt to Always Ascending is fitting for the band’s performance. However, assuming that the band creates better synergy following their tour in 2018 and the possible return of Nick McCarthy after he left in good terms, a sixth effort for the Scottish group could end up being one of the most creative, well-made works that could recreate the band’s legacy after their early run of success in the first decade of the 21st century