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Album Review: 'Always Ascending' by Franz Ferdinand

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, March 16, 2018  /  08:59 am
Album Review: 'Always Ascending' by Franz Ferdinand

‘Always Ascending’ by Franz Ferdinand (Franz Ferdinand/File)

Halfway through its newest album, Franz Ferdinand’s vocalist-guitarist Alex Kapranos starts sing-chanting a refrain of “[...] and the Academy Award for good times goes to you” while catchy baroque indie plays behind him.

The playful vivaciousness of the line captures the best elements of the Scottish indie rockers latest, a solid indie-disco record that doesn’t aim for more than getting people to put their 2001 skinny jeans back on and start dancing.

Instead of going the dull, easily marketable route of “getting back to their roots” that many bands with less-popular mid-period albums have done (or are doing), Franz Ferdinand marches on with its later-day sound.

Always Ascending doesn’t abandon the disco moves of its less celebrated, but still satisfying third and fourth record; instead it solidifies it with songs that feel more compact and direct. If anything, it’s the most danceable record it’s released thus far.

The big events in the band’s last few years also inject themselves into the record to a variety of degrees. First off is the departure of original guitarist Nick McCarthy in 2016, and the addition of the two new members, guitarist Dino Bardot and multi-instrumentalist Julian Corrie.

There aren’t any musical elements that could be considered new in context of the band’s history, but Corrie’s keyboards and synthesizer does rear themselves effectively without sounding too obvious.

Second is the super group FFS, the band formed with legendary eclectic duo Sparks. The FFS element is slightly more pronounced with the way the songs of Always Ascending’s uses repeated motifs and refrains — landing it closer to the mind-inserting repetition of dance/ disco music than the band’s jagged indie roots.

“Lazy Boy” is pure 1970s disco with such cadence — you’re certain that the song has other words, but the looped-like beat builds itself around Kapranos’s repeated yelps of the title. What could easily feel like an aural nuisance instead feels declarative, a call to let inhibitions go and move some muscle.

The opening title track has more guitars (funked-garage crispiness and in staccato, as is Franz Ferdinand’s won’t) and even more club lights infatuation; exploding with rave-embodying rhythms that move up and down throughout without losing its disco fever momentum.

Not unlike it, “Glimpse of Love” is all disco ball and glitter with Kapranos announcing the arrival of “A flash/A glimpse of perfect abs/In flimsy floral dress” amid non-ending bass-and-hi-hat-funk flourishes.

The synth-driven catwalk strut of “Feel The Love Go” is similarly confident and endlessly bopping — with the same kind of dance club observation, this time with Kapranos calling on someone “Why don’t you come over here?” multiple times. The title-track’s playboy wink of “Talk to me (talk to me)/ C’mon talk to me (talk to me)/ Yeah talk to me (talk to me)” sounds even more fitting in context.

While Kapranos’ lyrics here may feel a little too in service of the repetitive nature of dance music (meaning: they’re really simplistic), they do work well in wrapping the songs to make a complete package. There are still hints of his playfulness, however, that makes it easy to wish he managed to insert some of them here, such as the “We’re going to America/ We’re gonna tell them about the NHS/ When we get there we’ll all hang out/ Sipping 40’s with Huck and Jim” or “Everywhere sham bohemians/ Hello! Magazine bohemians/ Terminal chancers who loathe/ The privilege to loathe their privilege” — both from “Huck and Jim”.

A welcome semi-comeback of sorts, Always Ascending may not bring back the massive success the band had in the early-mid 2000s, but it shows that as veteran as they may be, Franz Ferdinand still knows how to excite listeners, while still sounding excited themselves. Not an easy feat, but something that this record manages to do.