Franz Ferdinand are back again after five years absence with their seventh studio album – Always Ascending. The album to be put simply, is fun and well done but it’s hard not to realise that they are starting to lose their relevance. Much like the super cool older sibling of your primary school buddy they are still completing impressive acts it’s just that they seem less so in a broader context. Always Ascending is a mature and calculated release that just doesn’t have the same connection points that we are used to.
Following on from the almost self indulgently long Always Ascending it’s easy to get consumed by ‘Lazy Boy’. The rhythm driven piece has a subtly eerie, and highly catchy beat to it and turns to be one of the more relatable tracks on the album. The song is about exactly what the title says it is about, the realisation that the song’s voice is lazy person who simply cannot achieve the simple act of getting up. But the distinctive guitar work makes up for all the simplicity of the lyrics present and makes it an early contender for best track of the album. This though is juxtaposed by ‘Lois Lane’ which, whilst still kinda funky, takes a much stronger focus in a lyrical journey. It’s a subtle assessment of dating habits of a generation but out of touch to anyone who lives in a world of swiping for love. The concept of “be happy at the over 30s single night….it’s bleak, it’s bleak…” is a relatable one, but one that feels somewhat distant. Franz Ferdinand have expanded their sound on Always Ascending but at the same time fallen into a trap of disconnection.
The album is one that is easy to enjoy, the social and personal commentary is available but rarely shoved in the listeners face. These are songs written with meaning, but aren’t trying to change the world, and for a casual listening experience this is more or less a good thing. ‘Huck and Jim’ ignored this memo in its discussion of introducing the NHS to America and earns this sense of ridiculousness for it. Again, it’s not that Franz Ferdinand are making bad music or are with questionable ideas, just that things don’t always add up as well as the band was once able to. But on a positive note, ‘Huck and Jim’ creates the perfect sense of energy to bridge into ‘Glimpse of Love’. The best part of ‘Glimpse of Love’ is that it both rejects yet fully embraces the perfection of Franz Ferdinand. It’s synthier, and more dance ready than anything they have released before, yet distinct in vocal style and energy. Across Always Ascending Franz Ferdinand have expanded their sound and confidence. They are still that band that we’ve grown up loving, but they’ve picked up new influences and sounds that make them that little less familiar.
Nostalgia is a strange factor to consider when a new album is released. But over the past fourteen years we’ve come to know and love Franz Ferdinand, and the way they release music. We crave that old sound whilst being excited by the fact we are getting more. Always Ascending could be an indication of the worst side of this though. It’s a solid album, the tracks good and none can be complained about so much. But it is hard to embrace with enthusiasm because it simply isn’t what we expect from Franz Ferdinand. It leans both too closely to what we know and love of the band and fails to offer an exact reason why we should pick it over the classics. Franz Ferdinand aren’t a dead or irrelevant band yet, but one that may be sticking to the niche fans now.
Always Ascending is well worth a few listens, but it’s important to remember that it a new experience to say the least.