Album Review: Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending

After a five-year hiatus, Glaswegian band Franz Ferdinand’s comeback does not disappoint. This was almost an impossibility; after the departure of co-founder Nick McCarthy in 2016, the band nearly called it quits. Thankfully, this thought lasts a split second and their fifth album affirms the reason behind their over-a-decade-long popularity.

Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending artwork

In an interview with GQ, lead singer Alex Kapranos describes the direction with this album as ‘futuristic naturalistic’. Though this definition is Kapranos’ ironic attempt to prevent the pigeonholing of the band’s genre (‘When you say rock, I just think Aerosmith’), the album’s musical style fits this flamboyant description. Whilst elements of their ‘Take Me Out’ days still remain, their distinct guitar riffs still very much a part of their craft, new ideas are heavily incorporated. In the same interview, Kapranos elaborates further on his description: ‘This time we’re trying to push ourselves into our imagined version of the future: Not in 2,000 years’ time, this year’s future.’

Kapranos’ statement pertains to the album’s coupling of live instrumental music with electronic elements. Whilst this may seem obvious in this day and age, it’s a new direction for the band’s artistry. As seen in the album’s title track, ‘Always Ascending’, the slow opening melody with Kapranos’ distinctive vocals hark back to their early days. Whilst the listener settles into this familiarity, a minute into the track the melody takes a metric and harmonic take-off: the intense yet gradual build up of a singular A-note guitar riff with the sound of an engine rising. This leads into the upbeat section, the repetition of ‘never gonna resolve’ acting as mimesis with the music. As far as title tracks go, Franz Ferdinand demonstrate their expertise in captivation, managing to draw, surprise and excite all within the space of five minutes. This experimentalism is further exacerbated in ‘Huck and Finn’, which features a rap from Kapranos talking about the NHS to America. Despite the album’s modernism, the band still retain their signature cynical yet playful sound.

So what’s it about? The idea of ‘Always Ascending’ as a concept album is met with distaste. ‘Frankly, I don’t believe artists who say their albums are about one thing,’ comments bassist Bob Hardy, and this album is certainly evident of that. Topics range from the Akron airship explosion of 1933 (‘Always Ascending’), being a ‘Lazy Boy’, the need for universal healthcare (‘Huck and Jim’) and quarter-life crises (‘Lois Lane’). Although subject matters flit between the historic, tongue-and-cheek and political, the overarching theme seems to be the journey of the human experience. Could this be considered a defining motif? Let’s hope Hardy approves.