Review Summary: “Oh, I love this song.” “Me too.” “Actually, I’m getting kind of sick of it.”
Given the upbeat nature of Franz Ferdinand’s music, I am surprised it took this long for them to fully delve into the electronic side of things. And now that they are there, I am surprised it is not just an Electropop album, but rather one that uses those techniques on the surface level. Everything else surrounding that stayed exactly the same.
How does a band become known for its song-writing and not for its musical style" Somehow, the boys of the band affectionately named after an assassinated Austrian archduke managed to create their essential, instantly recognisable and unquestionably clear trademark in the way they approach their tunes, hooks and choruses, instead of the more usual uniqueness or impressive structuring of instrumentation and production. And as an ultimate proof of that, here we have a nearly entirely electronically based album that is perhaps not essential, but conspicuously archetypal Franz Ferdinand record, and that all merely due to the unmistakeable nature of their songs’ catchiness and simple playfulness.
All-in-all, you can say all the same about Always Ascending
as you would about any other Franz Ferdinand record (surprisingly enough, even their collaboration with Sparks… voice of four beats voice of two, I suppose), amending that this has a much more prominent synthesiser layering and electronic production. So what could be said about this record should be said not in general, but individually about each track. They should be analysed and judged separately, because as a whole –well –they might hold up with the rest of the band’s discography just as well.
It all starts off innocently enough with the first and lead single off the album, also being its title track. While a mildly enjoyable effort in and of itself, on the long-run it seems rather forgettable. The refrain lands sloppily and the build-up and arrangement sound either out-of-place or moderately tepid. But the following “Lazy Boy” sets the record straight (literally and figuratively) on who’s behind all of this, as the song bursts out with the old usual Franz Ferdinand flare and punch we grew to love. It almost sounds like a sort of a sequel to “This Boy” from their sophomore release, presenting this abstract hypothetical character, whose lifestyle and mindset is filled with carefree joy and oblivious flamboyancy.
With “Paper Cages”, however, starts a rather long and excruciating streak of perfectly unremarkable songs, going through “Finally”, “Lois Lane” and to “Huck and Jim”, each of whom contain quite forgettable hooks that fail to hit home, due to their softened and smoothed out sound. One might have a better chorus, other better lyrics and one a more pleasing guitar work, but in the end they are all, contrary to the previously stated theory of this record’s songs’ individuality, as one. The only real exception (and an exception on the whole album) is the song “The Academy Award”, which is an unexpected acoustic ballad without a real chorus, but with an atmospheric build-up instead.
The punch and poignancy returns to the album with “Glimpse of Love”, which features a cheesy, but still working tune; then “Feel the Love Again”, where the band finds itself in a purposefully silly and obnoxious arrangement technique, but one that results in a much more striking baggage. And all leading to the most emotionally charged and musically touching cut, as it tends to be the case with Franz’s music, “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow”, the closer. A song, which is still a playful kookiness in its core, but with a much milder and benign angle to it, and it offers a satisfying and quite pretty finish to the whole album’s experience.
And that is that. What appears more surprising to me is not anything particular on the album, but rather the fact that there is enough to talk about for this long. Much like the whole experience itself, you can find a paragraph or two enjoyable for a different reason or you might find them bland and creatively stiff, however in the end it is the author’s regular dosage of blabbery. Bottom line, the album is stupid fun. Get into it or get over it.