Review: Fifth Franz Ferdinand album turns over a new leaf

Indie rock band Franz Ferdinand released its fifth studio album Always Ascending on Friday, about four-and-a-half years since their last release, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions. It’s also the band’s first release since the departure of one of its founding members, guitarist Nick McCarthy. To fill the void, two new members have since joined Franz Ferdinand: Dino Bardot and Julian Corrie.

From the opening track, it’s also clear that Always Ascending is quite a departure from the rest of Franz Ferdinand’s discography. The album artwork itself represents the overall stylistic changes, featuring a black background — a common feature of Franz Ferdinand album covers — with bright neon text streaked across it. This cover best captures the evolution of the band’s style: sounding like previous Franz Ferdinand work, but with just enough new elements to make it distinct from previous projects.

It’s hard to call Franz Ferdinand an indie rock band anymore. The album does not rely on heavy guitar as much as their previous works, but instead features a developed, well-balanced fusion of styles and instruments. They utilize newer musical production technology, but do not overly rely on or abuse it, skillfully blending guitar and synth.

Lyrically, Franz Ferdinand disguises deeper, profound and sometimes existential messages in synthesized dance bops. The titular song, “Always Ascending,” contains many of these messages, while mirroring the title in the production with sounds that are literally always ascending. The title is about the song’s production, but is also existential contemplation disguised in a synth heavy dance song, as proven by lyrics like “Always and always and always ascending / The opening line leaves an uncertain ending” and “We can ascend from this arrangement / We can see fate as entertainment.”

Franz Ferdinand has built an extensive indie rock catalogue since their formation in 2002, but on Always Ascending the band experiments with a new sound, fusing a variety of styles and instruments that utilize more modern musical production technology. Photo courtesy of Cara Robbins.

“Lois Lane” provides another example of synth-laden production disguising deeper lyrics and themes. Over the catchy beat, the singer recites philosophical lines such as, “The motivation of altruism is selfishness / The desire for the pleasure of the reward.”

Other notable tracks harken back to the sound of earlier Franz Ferndinand albums, such as “Lazy Boy” and “Finally.” “Lazy Boy” showcases Franz Ferdinand’s tongue-in-cheek style; it’s also the album’s shortest song, clocking in at 2:59, and the most repetitive song on the album, perhaps a reference to the title. While easily the laziest song, it’s undeniably catchy.

Lyrically, “Finally” is like 2018’s answer to “This Must Be The Place” by Talking Heads. It is a pleasant, simple appreciation or “love song” dedicated to close friends: “Oh, then suddenly I’m home / Finally I found my people/ I found the people who were meant to be found by me / Finally, finally, finally I’m here / In my place, so I’m here /  God, how it heals you to feel / God, how it feels good to be with the people like me.”

The weakest links of the album are what seem to be attempts at ballads with “The Academy Award” and “Slow Don’t Kill Me Now.” They feel out of place among the infectious tone that characterizes the rest of Always Ascending. Franz Ferdinand is truly in its element with bolder, upbeat songs.

Always Ascending proves that Franz Ferdinand is doing just that: ascending. Overall, the album is a strong blend of “classic” Franz Ferdinand, and new synth-dance influences. Despite the instrumentation style changes, the tone of previous Franz Ferdinand albums remains in tact. The lyrics have not taken a back seat to the updated  production. While it is a bit of a departure from the band’s previous work, fans should take heed of what is said in the album’s title track and “feel no fear.”