When vast success comes early in an act’s career, it’s often hard to replicate, let alone sustain. Franz Ferdinand, despite having maintained a career with a steady flow of albums, will always be synonymous with ‘Take Me Out,’ and part of the class of 2004. Still, credit where it’s due: instead of retreading the same territory to diminishing returns, they’ve continued to evolve towards a more dance-orientated sound to diminishing returns.
Their 2015 collaboration with Sparks under the guise of FFS notwithstanding, ‘Always Ascending’ represents their first album in 5 years.
The ream of imperious conditions and prohibitions on the cover of the promo – it’s not only not my CD but the property of the record company, which is standard, and not only can I not share or copy it (again, standard) but I can’t even play it on my laptop or any other Internet enabled device. It’s almost as if they don’t want me to hear it.
They promise an album ‘bursting with fresh ideas and vigorous sonic experimentation’, and Alex Kapranos proudly asserts that the sound is ‘simultaneously futuristic and naturalistic’. What does that even mean? Judging by the hybridised nature of the songs on ‘Always Ascending,’ Kapranos has joined the consensus that in the wake of postmodernism, we’ve already accepted that the future is destined to become an endless rehashing of the past. How else do you explain the apparent contradiction of ‘fresh ideas’ and ‘futurism’ with the clumsy funk and tired Britpop tropes that dominate the album?
If opening an album with a brooding, mid-tempo piano-led song makes for an underwhelming gambit, the sense of flat dispassion is replaced by contortions of horror when a minute or so in, said song – the title track – metamorphasises into a funk-hued disco stomper that comes on like a cross between Blancmange and The Scissor Sisters. The danced-up Depeche Mode-isms of ‘Lazy Boy Edit View’ are interfused with some western twang and more nagging funk guitar motifs.
With a cornball hookline (‘the academy award for good times goes to you’) and contrived sentimentality, ‘The Academy Award’ sounds like a third-rate hack at ripping off The Kinks, the string section only accentuating the lethargic adoption of cliché. There’s also a sense that in going for bold theatrics, they’ve locked into a mid-tempo mode that ‘Huck and Jim’ manages to show a bit more sonic oomph, although its cyclical three-segment structure, whereby the action happens in the bridge between the verse and chorus, isn’t entirely successful. The individual segments simply don’t sit together all that well.
They revisit the vibe of ‘Matinee’ with ‘Glimpse of Love’. If bouncy Britpop with a disco beat and some synths is the best they’ve got for ‘fresh ideas’, then they probably shouldn’t have bothered. No, wait! ‘Feel the Love Go’ lobs a big old saxophone over the insistent disco groove. Because everyone loves the 80s, right?
Gamechanger it isn’t. Career relauncher, I also very much doubt – all of which renders the title rather ironic.