Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending review

Secret Meeting score: 60

by Philip Moss

In 2004, British guitar music was soaring – the charts were dominated by independent groups and the NME’s ‘New Rock Revolution’ was looking like it would create a long lasting legacy. From the glut of bands to choose from, one in particular stood out among the crowd, thanks mostly to their crossover anthem, Take Me Out – a bonafide indie anthem that, to this day, is still a guaranteed floor filler. But after almost four million sales world wide and a Mercury Music Prize win for their debut album alone, Franz have never really followed up the promising start to career. Five years on from their last record, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, they are back (minus founding member, Nick McCarthy, who’s been replaced by Julian Corrie aka Miaoux Miaoux, and ex-1990’s guitarist, Dino Bardot) with a new LP, Always Ascending.

Always Ascending opens with its title track and the record’s lead single. Featuring an extended intro of pianos, hushed drum machines and the repeated backing vocal hook of ‘put your ladder down’, the album edit certainly benefits from the breathing space, before building into a predictable, repetitive (and rather annoying) disco stomp.

As well as the change in lineup, Always Ascending saw the band team up for the first time with producer, Philippe Zdar (Phoenix, The Rapture, Cut Copy). A collaboration that makes total sense and whose influence is felt throughout – not least through the sparkling synths of Lazy Boy. But, again, its lyrics are – ignore the pun – lazy (‘I’m a lazy boy, I’m a lazy boy. Never gettin’ up in time, I enjoy being a lazy boy’), and its guitars, despite McCarthy’s departure, are simply Franz-by-numbers.

What also set Franz Ferdinand apart in the early days was Alex Kapranos’ witty, socialist intellectualisms – a theme touched upon on Paper Cages (a song they recently performed live on The Andrew Marr Show). Clearly as in touch as ever, Kapranos sings – ‘Well we’ll never be free if our incarceration is a story we tell- a tale of invention. Is it personal choice? Personal conviction? Or are you living like me in paper cages?’ But despite the passionately delivered, cutting subject matter, Paper Cages once more fails to feel like a song that will truly resonate.

The record’s stand out moment recalls the first minute of Jacqueline (from their debut LP), as Kapranos does his best Scott Walker impression on the hauntingly charming, The Academy Award – ‘We’re starring in the movies of our lives, and the Academy Award for good times goes to you.’ Before the record slides back into its faux-disco comfort zone with Glimpse of Love and Feel the Love Go.

Sadly, the ironically titled, Always Ascending, is much like the rest of Franz’s output over the last 15 years – packed full of songs that might sound good on the dance floor this week, or maybe even this month, but won’t be sticking around for any longer than that. And there’s certainly nothing here that’s going to stop you staggering to the DJ booth and asking, ’Can you play Take Me Out!?’