It takes balls to call your fifth album Always Ascending – especially if your singles from over a decade ago are still trailing behind you as a reminder of past chart dominance.
But Franz Ferdinand’s new LP seems like a mix between a new debut or a second coming of sorts, with frontman Alex Kapranos calling it a “whole new era”. For starters, guitarist Nick McCarthy left the band after 14 years in July 2016, with the obvious question marks hanging over the future of the band.
Cliche or not, Kapranos says it merely brought he, Paul Thompson and Bob Hardy closer together, using it as a stimulus, saying: “I’ve never been more intensely into the band.” The ‘new era’ tag has more clout with the addition of new guitarist Dino Barrie, and notably Julian Corrie on keys, which has steered the electronic direction on Always Ascending.
When Franz Ferdinand emerged in 2002 they were an arched eyebrow art-rock alternative to most of the other indie bands NME fawned over as the New Rock Revolution. Their first two singles Darts of Pleasure and Take Me Out, and their 2004 debut LP were fuelled by a desire to “make records that girls can dance to”. On paper a facetious comment, but in hindsight it feels like a sideswipe to indie lad bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, Jet, the Hives and the rest.
Scoring five hit singles, Franz Ferdinand’s spiky indie-disco debut was one of the indie success stories of the decades, with Take Me Out still being played nightly in indie and student club nights, probably forever. Follow-up You Could Have It Much Better had the insanely catchy Do You Want To, with the album and the two following records ticking the same boxes for older fans and a dwindling number of new ones.
An inspired hook-up followed in 2015 when the four joined with art-rock supremos Sparks to form FFS, full of artful pop, Sparkling wit and dramatic arrangements. After this detour, a return to wry indie-disco would be a few steps back, so Kapranos’s “new era” pronouncements don’t ring hollow at all.
Always Ascending is hardly an avant-garde left turn – there’s plenty of nods to 80s post-punk and new wave. But it sounds like a band rejuvenated, bouncing along on propulsive electronics and knockout choruses. The title track, Lazy Boy and Feel the Love Go are as catchy as anything in their songbook, and if Take Me Out will make the Olympia feel like any indie disco of the last 15 years – with these new tracks at least everybody will keep dancing.
- Franz Ferdinand play Galway Leisureland tomorrow (Saturday February 10) and Dublin’s Olympia on Sunday