Fifth album Always Ascending brings electronica to Franz Ferdinand's indie-punk template
Album review: Franz Ferdinand’s high five in creative freedom
Glaswegian art school indie-punkers Franz Ferdinand release their fifth studio album this month, and they seem to be in a very happy place. The band have a solid following and are big enough to justify putting albums out every couple of years, but no longer so big they face the pressure to sell the singles that followed hits such as 2004’s Take Me Out and The Dark of the Matinée.
None of the singles released to promote Always Ascending charted at all, discounting number 63 on the Belgian chart for 2017’s title track, and a number 25 United States Alternative chart placing. With the album debuting at number 6 on the UK charts, but there’s no danger of label Domino dropping them, and they’re clearly enjoying their creative freedom.
Further evidence of this can be found in the band’s previous studio outing – a collaboration with ’70s/’80s electro-pop-rock experimentalists Sparks as FFS. That album was a critical and commercial success, and Franz Ferdinand have taken on board some of their erstwhile synth-heavy collaborators’ aesthetic.
FF’s trademark buzzsaw guitar is still in evidence, but synths and electronica play a much bigger part on this album than previously, doubtless in part due to the recent arrival of Julian Corrie, also known as Glaswegian electro producer Miaoux Miaoux, to replace the departed founding member Nick McCarthy, as well as production from Cassius collaborator Phillipe Zdar.
On opener Always Ascending, a brooding electro operetta, Alex Kapranos seems to be channelling former Bauhaus frontman Pete Murphy’s ’80s post-break-up work from albums like 1999’s Deep, while Lazy Boy has an almost krautrock with synth hooks swirling over a hypnotic, rumbling funkish guitar line. “Most out-there” award-winner, Huck and Jim, veers into ’80s-style discordant guitar weirdness we’ve heard from the likes of The Cardiacs and The Very Things, while taking a dig at US politics.
It’s an enjoyable listen, and although the influence of Sparks hangs heavy, this complements an unmistakably Franz Ferdinand-sounding album. Rather than another album of three-chord guitar chops and clever-but-not-smug lyrics, we get the sound of a band proud of its past, but happy with its present, and the ubiquitous clever-but-not-smug lyrics.