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Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending (Album Review)

Tuesday, 13 February 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

The most telling thing about the early 2000s post-punk revival was its lack of staying power. Razorlight, Maxïmo Park, the Futureheads and countless others came flying out the gates, but by the end of the decade they had more or less faded out. You could cite over-saturation, or cycles in trends, as the reason behind that, but much of it had to do with the style's limited scope.

Franz Ferdinand shared many of the same genre traits as these bands: clean production, understated vocals, staccato guitar lines and rigid pop-rock structures. But they also possessed an intelligence and dry humour their contemporaries lacked.

That was partly down to age and experience – frontman Alex Kapranos was a 32-year-old veteran of the Glasgow scene by the time they released their self-titled debut in 2004.

The album was a fun and imaginative take on dance-punk, jammed with goofy pop hooks and caustic jokes. That in mind, it's no real surprise they're the ones still making music a decade-and-a-half later.

Still, they've gone through some changes for their latest effort, 'Always Ascending'. Julian Corrie (aka Miaoux Miaoux) has replaced Nick McCarthy on keys and backing guitar, while Dino Bardot has also joined the line-up, but not in time for the recording of this record. It reflects the band's gradual attempts to reinvent themselves since 2009's 'Tonight', the first record where electronics become a prominent element of their sound.

The opening title track sets the tone nicely with funky guitars, spiky synths and double title drums. It's the sort of energetic, ‘80s-inspired kitsch that could be by young Glasgow peers like WHITE, let alone LCD Soundsystem in their pomp. It's a template they're comfortable with: Feel the Love Go and the Donna Summer-esque Glimpse of Love both build and build on synth arpeggios, leaving room for Bob Hardy to seize attention with his trademark basslines.

The band are far less convincing when they fall back into their old ways. New single Lazy Boys would barely have passed for a b-side on their guitar-led records. Its insistent lead hook feels forced and lacks the sense of spontaneity and abandon they used to pull off. Paper Cages is similarly lethargic, retreading riffs and patterns they've churned out time and time before.

It's not as if the band lack self-awareness, either, because their embrace of irony and self-deprecation is part of what makes them so charming. Lois Lane is a particular highlight on this score: Kapranos's own frustrations are palpable as he takes on the perspective of a trained journalist who wants to “change the world” before closing off with a rumination on how “it's bleak at over 30s singles night”.

Likewise, The Academy Award shows he can still write sharp, topical lyrics as he jabs at voyeuristic and overtly sexualised western culture without sounding too cheesy or satirical. Nevertheless, Franz Ferdinand have always been at their best when draping this sort of wry social commentary with ingenious pop hooks. 'Always Ascending' deserves credit for its danceable grooves and adventurous moments, but its melodies far too seldom catch you.

Franz Ferdinand Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 13 2018 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Wed February 14 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Fri February 16 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Sat February 17 2018 - GLASGOW O2 Academy Glasgow
Mon February 19 2018 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Tue February 20 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Wed February 21 2018 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Fri February 23 2018 - CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Sat February 24 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sun February 25 2018 - BRIGHTON Brighton Dome

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