Franz Ferdinand’s fifth album has been described as “nothing short of a rebirth” but the evidence for such a claim is scarce. Always Ascending reaches none of the heights suggested by its title. Instead, it feels more an unwitting return to the band’s roots. It’s like the difficult second album they never had. Parts of the album – their first in five years – confidently display the band’s formula of Blondie-not-Patrick-Cowley disco that they once termed “music for girls to dance to”. Glimpse of Love and Feel the Love Go are prime examples of FF’s ability to write shimmering, strutting tunes. It works well in places – see the enjoyable synthpop of Lois Lane – but the songs themselves are a bit wanting. Huck and Jim’s nautical cod-reggae call and response is grating, as are the smug lyrics (“we’re going to America – we’re gonna tell them about the NHS”) and clunky chorus, while Academy Award recalls 2005 single Walk Away without the introspection or wit.
Former NME Editor Connor McNicholas recently bragged that in his day he wouldn’t feature a band who didn’t have “good hair and good shoes”, and so Franz Ferdinand showed up on the scene with “fucking great hair and brilliant shoes.” Franz Ferdinand were too good to have their legacy soured by the less favourable memories of the noughties indie era. But Always Ascending is a middling effort that seems to have suffered from the departure of the band’s founding guitarist Nick McCarthy, and the ‘normal songs + synthesisers – guitars = revolutionary’ equation doesn’t achieve the rebirth they needed.