Music

Franz Ferdinand Invite Us to Dance Through the World's Problems on 'Always Ascending'

Photo: David Edwards

Despite some missteps, Always Ascending features enough excellent dance tracks, experimentation, and optimism to keep Franz Ferdinand fun and relevant a decade and a half into their career.

Always Ascending
Franz Ferdinand

Domino

9 Feb 2018

All it takes is the first three rapid strums of the guitar, and listeners' ears perk up for what still holds as one of the best dance rock songs of the millennium. The tension in the tight, playful guitar/bass lines and the pounding disco drums of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" are so perfect, it hardly needs words to express the nervous energy of the club scene in which our narrator agonizes over expressing his feelings. But the words are there anyway, just to punctuate the playful dance between "making a move" and "waiting it out to not mess it all up."

Scottish dance-rockers Franz Ferdinand will always be compared to their masterpiece from 14 years ago. It's a hard hurdle to overcome, and always a blessing and a curse. However, the group has consistently produced excellent dance rock since their debut, keeping them from one-hit-wonder status. Now later in their career, however, that comparison becomes even harder. Despite losing a key piece of their identity in Nick McCarthy, the group journeys on with Always Ascending.

And instead of making a split with the past and just looking to their present art, their marketing compared it to that classic debut, calling Always Ascending "as invigorating an album as the band's glistening debut". Wow. So this should be one of the top 10 albums of the year, right? Well, it's not that. But despite some missteps, Always Ascending features enough excellent dance tracks, experimentation, and optimism to keep Franz Ferdinand fun and relevant a decade and a half into their career.

The album starts off strong with the title track featuring the eerie Shepard tone effect, literally making the song "Always Ascending" as the familiar disco rock takes over, bringing to mind LCD Soundsystem. "Lazy Boy" continues the groovy opening with some of the best guitar riffs of the album, combining "Funkytown" funk chords with surf-y tremolo picking. Rounding out the opening trio, "Paper Cages" invites us to "step out" of the social constructs and barriers that keep us from being free, and they make it sound so easy.

"Finally" isn't able to continue the energy of its predecessors with its clunky structure and its bland, repetitive lyrics about being fine in the spring sunshine. But follow up "The Academy Award" stands as one of the most interesting songs on the album. An eerie, atmospheric track about celebrity in our attention-seeking, selfie-snapping society, it marks an experimental success for the band, but feels a little out of place on a dance rock record. "Lois Lane", on the other hand, takes its subject matter - being thirtysomething and juggling career ambitions with meaningful relationships - and delivers it with unrelenting danciness.

"Huck and Jim" is another oddball track that honestly wouldn't feel out of place on a Foxygen album. It has that over-the-top theatrical element, combining a contemplative bass-driven verse with an early '80s rap-inspired pre-chorus before jumping into a triumphant chorus where Alex Kapranos criticizes American healthcare and racial tensions, hoping to "sip 40's with Huck and Jim", a reference to Mark Twain's classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the title character of course being a young white boy, while Jim is a fleeing slave.

These tracks are more than you bargained for if you're just looking for songs to dance to and forget the world's problems. But conversely, Franz Ferdinand invite us to dance through the world's problems, a solution that may be necessary, as those problems don't seem to be ending anytime soon. But despite the problems, we'll always have dance and love, as Kapranos sings on the climactic "Feel the Love Go", "Think of a friend / And wish them love / Think of an enemy / And wish them more / Then feel that love return / Feel the love infinity." Franz Ferdinand's approach to dance rock hasn't changed all that much since their 2004 masterpiece. But their optimism for a better society and their commitment to their free and fun nature is something to smile about.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.

Film

The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

Books

'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.

Music

2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.

Books

'Lie With Me': Beauty, Love and Toxic Masculinity in the Gay '80s

How do we write about repression and toxic masculinity without valorizing it? Philippe Besson's Lie With Me is equal parts poignant tribute and glaring warning.

Music

Apparat's 'Soundtrack: Capri-Revolution' Stands Alone As a Great Ambient Experience

Apparat's (aka Sascha Ring) re-imagined score from Mario Martone's 2018 Capri-Revolution works as a fine accompaniment to a meditational flight of fancy.

Music

Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers Merge Haitian Folk and Electronic Music on 'Vodou Alé'

Haitian roots music meets innovative electronics on Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers' Vodou Alé.

My Favorite Thing

Weird and Sweet, Riotous and Hushed: The Beatles' 'The White Album'

The Beatles' 'The White Album' is a piece of art that demonstrates how much you can stretch, how far you can bend, how big you really are. The album is deeply weird. It has mass. It has its own weather.

Music

Sarah Jarosz Finds Inspiration in Her Texas Roots on 'World on the Ground'

By turning to her roots in central Texas for inspiration on World on the Ground, Sarah Jarosz has crafted some of her strongest songs yet.

Music

Hinds' 'The Prettiest Curse' Is One of Victory

On The Prettiest Curse, Hinds create messy pop music that captures the vibrancy of youth without being childish.

Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.