Franz Ferdinand : Always Ascending

The early 2000s. It was a magical time for music, wasn’t it? We were overwhelmed with a wave of new and exciting bands mining post-punk and new wave artists past that maybe never got the love and respect they deserved in their moment of awakening. Bands like The Strokes, Interpol, Art Brut, The Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Franz Ferdinand appeared on the music skyline and gave us a reason to erase nu metal, Kid Rock, and boy bands out of our collective minds. Fast forward to 2018 and of all those acts I mentioned Franz Ferdinand are the only ones left that have remained relative in the current music zeitgeist. And really, their 2004 debut still sounds pretty damn good 14 years on. It was fun, jagged, dance-y, and didn’t take itself so damn seriously. They followed up their self-titled with the more rock and roll You Could Have It So Much Better in 2005. They took four years to release album number three, the synth-heavy Tonight : Franz Ferdinand in 2009. Their last album, 2013s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions which tried to capture some of that debut album magic, but to mixed results.

Much like the rest of those self-assured young punks of the early 2000s that gave us all hope that music was once again heading in the right direction, by album number 3 things just started to wain a bit for Franz Ferdinand. Still, these Scots aren’t ready to call it quits. Alex Capranos and company have returned with the mildly triumphant Always Ascending. Nothing has been rewritten. The recipe hasn’t been thrown out and created from scratch. No, this record is a revisiting to all those things that worked for Franz Ferdinand; from the angular riffs to the new wave dance numbers and all around goofy abandon, it’s all here. Hit play and just have some fun, why don’t you.

“Always Ascending” starts things out on a fantastically Franz Ferdinand-ian note. We’re given a big, wistful, dreamy opening that sounds very James Murphy-like as the song descends into a sweaty, hedonistic disco groove. Alex Capranos has been one of my favorite front men to emerge in the last 15 years. He just comes across as a guy I’d love to drink a pint with and maybe talk Orange Juice and Wire a bit with. This song is comfort food for my ears. “Lazy Boy” keeps those late night 70s disco vibes going just fine with another self-deprecating song that Capranos seems so well at making. It’s very Gang of Four, minus the militant scowls and punk vitriol. You can almost always count on a poetic bit of balladeering on nearly every Ferdinand release, and “The Academy Award” takes that mantle proudly. It’s a beautifully melancholy piece of music that brings to mind both Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker. So yeah, it’s a tear-dampened handkerchief used to clean up a bloody nose as you drive home to an empty existence with an empty fridge kind of song. “Lois Lane” is a lanky synth pop track that you can’t help but bob your head to. It’s like The Human League and Madness playing ping pong in the studio as Talk Talk discussed song arrangements.

Elsewhere, “Huck and Jim” gets a little noisy with big guitars and prevalent bass with some hip hop vibes thrown in for good measure. “Glimpse Of Love” is shimmering guitar and 80s alternative swagger, while “Feel The Love Go” lays down some serious club vibes with Capranos asking the usual questions in the way Alex Capranos does. “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow” tries to make its mark as the last track, but while it has lots of melodrama and production schmaltz it sort of gets forgotten in the wake of the Franz Ferdinand dance party we just experienced.

Franz Ferdinand are a guilty pleasure I’m not about to give up. Always Ascending is a welcome reprieve from the typhoon of junk I see and hear daily every time I open a newspaper or watch the news. Alex Capranos and Franz Ferdinand are the comfort food for my ears that makes me feel like things are gonna be okay. Maybe even if its just for 40 minutes, I can just get lost in weirdly sentimental dance music that reminds me of simpler times. You know, when there was a Bush in office and New York was healing itself, one Strokes album at a time. And four Scots called Franz Ferdinand wanted to “Take Me Out”.

7.9 out of 10

Franz Ferdinand-Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action

franz ferdinandHow many of you like me were enamored with Franz Ferdinand back in 2004? It’s hard to describe, but something about that debut album lit a post-punk fuse in me. I’d just begun listening to Gang of Four and had dabbled in The Jam as well. These cats were just the right modern take on a untouchable music noise that I was just beginning to love. I imagined Ray Davies sounding like “Michael”, “Darts Of Pleasure”, “This Fire”, and the excellent “Come On Home” had he been born 20 years later. Alex Kapranos had this mix of snarky ambiguity and genuine sad sackery in his vocals and lyrics on that first album that I thought for sure they’d be spanking other revivalists of the same ilk in years to come. So I wasn’t completely correct in that assumption. But I wasn’t completely incorrect. You Could Have It So Much Better had these Scottish Orange Juice disciples putting their dance shoes away so they could show some rock machismo. Then 2009s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand was a mix of rock n’ roll noise, dance floor strut, and Moog freakouts. Most folks in-the-know would say both of the follow-ups were sorta failures(records sales say differently), at least artistically. I’m not in-the-know.  I’m just a schlub from the Midwest that likes his beer strong, his pizza drowned in cheese, and his dance rock boogie-inducing. Franz Ferdinand have been known to be a bit bitey, rather cheesy at times, and can make this middle-aged white guy want to strut his wares more often than not. Well, after nearly breaking up, Franz Ferdinand have returned 4 years later with Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, and while not breaking new ground have made the best with the fertile soil they’ve been working for nearly 10 years.

“Right Action” opens up with a familiar funky groove and a Kapranos sneer that tells you we’re back in sweaty pub territory. It’s a less venomous version of “Take Me Out”, sped up and some farfisa organ thrown in for good measure. “Evil Eye” has a great 80s dance beat to it, with a sound not unlike Madness doing a spy theme. Kapranos and company have taken the great production values of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand and the grittier songs of their debut to make something that sounds crisp and tight, but not overproduced. “Love Illumination” is the single and while it’s got some cool fuzzy guitar and even a horn section the track doesn’t really go anywhere. “Right Action” would’ve been a great single choice. But like I said, I’m just a schlub. “Stand On The Horizon” is a nice little ballad that doubles as a dance floor disco burner. “Bullet” churns and burns but sorta sits in one gear, but it’s got a great chorus.

We get a lot of the same throughout the rest of this album. There’s moments that shine, and others that sorta sit and wait for your approval. It’s sorta sad for me, as in my eyes the Franz Ferdinand that won me over with their angular riffs and snarky storytelling don’t need anyone’s approval. As long as they do what they do best they’ll be just fine. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action isn’t going to floor you. Hell, I’ll admit it, Franz Ferdinand are a guilty pleasure. But guilty pleasure or not, they shouldn’t be written off. There’s enough here for you to dig your teeth into. And hey, you can go ahead and shake what the Lord gave ya.  It’ll be our secret.

6.8 out of 10