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”.