Glaswegian dance rockers Franz Ferdinand have been releasing albums for over a decade now, but there were five quiet years in between their last official release and their latest, Always Ascending. Despite that time away, their new album feels surprisingly fresh for a relatively old band, particularly one which initially was grouped within the indie rock scene that was so fervently adored in the early 2000s, and has since faded out of fashion.
What I didn’t mention above is perhaps a crucial ingredient in this album: the release of a collaborative record with art rockers Sparks, titled FFS, in 2015. Perhaps working alongside Sparks, who combine compellingly danceable music and drolly self-aware lyrics, reinvigorated those elements in Franz Ferdinand. Those twin factors – danceable rock and a slightly cheeky attitude – are present throughout Always Ascending, with Franz Ferdinand playing up their specific strengths regarding their particular blend of dance and rock.
The musical element of the album is strong, and the main attraction for returning listens. The lyrics are frequently repetitive; with occasionally odd choices of refrains (such as “bring me water” in the title track), but the primary appeal of Franz Ferdinand’s music has not necessarily been lyrical impressiveness. The joy of listening to the band comes much more from the spirit and attitude behind the music, delivered with palpable energy by the band and the distinctive tone of singer Alex Kapranos’ voice.
Always Ascending lives up to its name, at least the uplifting nature of it. The first track, also the album’s namesake, begins with what sounds like an ascension, lifting us up into some sort of rock disco in the sky that we stay in for the rest of the album. The music throughout – save maybe in the two “slow” songs “The Academy Award” and “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow” – conveys a loose kind of joy that easily inspires you to get your body moving. The lyrics then back up that bit of euphoria by supporting the idea of letting go and releasing something within you. Lyrics like “step out of our cages,” “finally I’m here in my place” and “feel the love go” indicate a sense of relief and freedom that is translated into the fun, energized and rhythmic nature of the instrumentation.
The lyrics also feature their particular wry sense of humor and self-awareness that dismantles what, for other bands, might be the potential to self-idolize their own rock star existence. A song like “Lazy Boy” – probably the most “basic” on the album – is made enjoyable by Kapranos’ deadpan – and kind of coy – delivery of the repeated “I’m a lazy boy,” in such a way that you feel as though he knows this is a relatively silly song but not every song needs to be reaching towards the highest highs – and besides, can’t we just have fun with this? He then repeats the lyrics “Am I gonna get up? Am I gonna get up, get up? Never!” It’s charming and fun, and flirty (he’s too lazy to get of your bed, you see) and definitely the most danceable track I’ve heard about lying in bed.
Lyrical repetition serves them well in “Finally,” a joyous song about finally finding your people and your place, with the repeated “finally” indicating how long the journey towards these people and places has been. Kapranos’ subtle way of transmuting personality through vocals also makes “The Academy Award” and “Huck and Jim” a little more interesting than they would be otherwise. The former song has Kapranos nearly crooning to mimic the mock-cinematic nature of the life of the characters (“we’re starring in the movies of our lives”), while the latter song humorously talks about “going to America [and telling them] about the NHS [while hanging] out and sipping 40’s with Huck and Jim.”
The final track “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow” is relatively quiet and gentle, and isn’t meant to hype you up as much as the others. This makes it a great come-down track and topper for the album, as the whole listening experience eases you in and out while making you dance in between. Once you’ve left the world of Franz Ferdinand the songs do sort of waft away from you, even if you are having a fun time. There are a couple of songs near the end before the finale that are more forgettable, but as a whole the album – about 40 minutes – moves quickly and efficiently without feeling as though there’s a lot of filler space. The songs never get too bogged down in repeating themselves, and the energy level is pretty well maintained through the end.
Always Ascending is not necessarily a game-changer for the band, or a return to their early days – nor should it be. It’s a refreshing recharge several albums in, which indicates that Franz Ferdinand can keep their ramshackle energy while changing enough to move forward and remain enjoyable.