There are very few bands that remind me of my university days more than this week's featured artist – Franz Ferdinand. Amidst the short-lived revelry of Mylo and the early flutterings of Calvin Harris, Franz Ferdinand stood out as a beacon of class and good taste. 2004's self-titled debut was an unrelenting album of magnificence, from the mystique of Jacqueline to the floor-filling brilliance of Take Me Out, it was an album to define an era. The same cannot be said of 2005's follow-up You Could Have It So Much Better. A Speed 2 of an album, it was rushed and derivative and, Eleanor Put Your Boots On aside, contributed nothing to the Franz Ferdinand oeuvre. At this point, I must confess to having let the Glaswegian five piece drift from my field of consciousness. Cue 2018 and the band's fifth studio album, Always Ascending, their first in five years.
The album starts promisingly enough with heady title track Always Ascending. Enter a proggy, spiralling, Wakeman-esque keyboard and some sharp guitar licks and it feels like the band are heading in an interesting new direction. Paper Cages hints at another attempt at anthemic before segueing nicely into a jinky piano which, in turn, hold the door open for one of the few examples of intricate wordplay. Huck and Jim is the token anti-Trump rallying call which at times feels a trifle contrived (check the name drops for the NHS and DSS) but at least levels its criticism through the originality of a Mark Twain lens.
Unfortunately though, this is an album where the troughs outweigh the peaks. The abject Lazy Boy feels like the ultimate in self-fulfilling prophecies as any rational individual will come to the song's conclusion firmly believing that the song's writer is inseparable from its subject. The Academy Award prickles with dark overtones and a Wurlitzer-like backdrop yet beyond the glamour is yet another paint-by-numbers condemnation of celebrity and technology culture. Lois Lane lets down its exquisite musical flourishes by appearing, on the surface at least, to be dripping in patronising condescension. The album closes out with a whimper in the form of the tortuous Slow Don't Kill Me Slow which eeks by in such a sludgy monotone that it is hard to have strong feelings either way about.
On the whole, Always Ascending feels like the auditory equivalent of a child rebelliously dipping its toe into shark-infested waters. There are moments of unadulterated bravery however they are so often punctuated by frustrating retreats to safer ground. Musically, there is a lot happening and much of it works very well. The band's sound has progressed significantly since their initial incarnation and there is a freshness to the instrumentalism on show.
Unfortunately, while it seems that the musicians have taken the bullet train to 2018, the lyrics and vocals are still pootling around on a miniature steam train at the park. Where once vocalist Alex Kapranos felt cutting edge, there is now a distinctly stale Old Spice feel about the performance he is putting on. With the exception of Glimpse Of Love, the synergy between the band's different functions seems almost non-existent, so much so that at times you could be forgiven for thinking that Kapranos was acting as a supply lead singer while their regular front man was off sick. Perhaps it is time to admit that Franz Ferdinand is a band with nothing left to say?
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“I like the look of your place//Yes, I love your construction//Did you carve a wee key//From the soap in your kitchen//To turn in a lock//Of your own penal fiction”
Their cutting edge taken out
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