When news of the F•F•S album with Sparks first broke, it was only then that I thought to myself “maybe I should investigate this Franz Ferdinand?” They had stirred up a lot of New Wave Of New Wave sentiment when they broke and actually managed to sell well – even in The States! I often notice such things but am capable of waiting years to act on them, if ever. But I take Sparks advocacy very seriously, so I began to buy the FF albums I saw in the used bins. And I liked what I had heard. I saw FF play my city a year in advance of this album’s release, with a set list that included almost half of the 2018 album in it to no weakness at all. How would the released music compare?
# 10 • Franz Ferdinand: Always Ascending USP CD 
- Always Ascending
- Lazy Boy
- Paper Cages
- The Academy Award
- Lois Lane
- Huck And Jim
- Glimpse Of Love
- Feel The Love Go
- Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow
Well, this is even better than the songs were live, for a start! The amazing title track consolidates the FF artistic gambit of having frequent and abrupt changes of tone as it begins its life as a Walkeresque ballad only to swoop into the band’s patented indie disco/rock built on a riff that was indeed, always ascending on a rondo to the stars. The tattoos of snare drums only accelerated the momentum. When it all ended on a dramatic reverbed chord I was thinking to myself “Roxy Music.” Could Franz Ferdinand be the heirs apparent to Roxy Music?
The stinging disco licks of “Lazy Boy” was another of the songs I’d heard last summer but not quite this vibrantly. “Paper Cages” seemed to throwback to wiseguy post-glam UK pop with hints of disco-funk but with an overriding sense of rock swagger. It was delightful how “Finally,” the tale of Kopranos connecting with the tribe he was meant to be with, vacillated between balladic verses and a rousingly glammy chorus with an a cappella break to die for.
The chorus of “The Academy Award” seems every inch the sort of song that FF’s partners in song Sparks could have summoned forth at any time in their 46 years. But that’s just the chorus. The verses remind me only of those of another Scot band, “The Associates” and their enigmatically dark “Transport To Central.” The tonal shifts of the song were so stimulating in this age of manipulated loops and canned music. The poise between irony and tragedy balances on a razor’s edge here with the lyrics being far more disturbing than one suspects upon hearing the music.
Similarly, “Lois Lane” could be a jaunty Sparks number until the devastating climax of the song which shifted dramatically from singalong pop to “at the over thirties singles night, it’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak.” When the line “see you next week” ends the song coldly, and shockingly, one cannot help but think of “Virginia Plain.”
The constant shifts of “Huck + Jim” were almost berserk, but not as berserk as the lyrics, which posited traveling to America and telling the famous literary characters about the wonders of the NHS while sipping drinks! The climactic “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow” is the big show stopper ending here with a sense of restraint as it began as a darkened theater ballad, only to develop into a bigger, darker, stranger number by the time of the middle eight. With cryptic lyrics far beyond what typically comes over the transom these days.
“Jump cut back to high-res time lapse
Seasons shift or pass
Maybe leaves then snow into still-life ripens
Feast of larvae explode
Blue dust shadow of mould” – “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow”
Then it finally climaxed as a cinematic ballad pregnant with sturm und drang and not a little pathos as it played out in its magnificent coda. Ending the dynamic, stimulating album on a rarefied plane.
Advance word of reviewers that I trust and especially top commenter Echorich had pointed to a huge leap forward after several albums of artistic retreat from the band and I am in total agreement with those takes. This was a glittering blue diamond of an album. I heard a lot of Roxy Music inspiration here and I would go as far as saying that the band have delivered their “Stranded” with “Always Ascending.” This was densely arranged, pop rock music with a dark sheen to it that resisted easy grokking. I’ve only had time to give it one listen this morning but I am well and duly impressed. Franz Ferdinand have delivered on their long standing promise here and have given us a startling, wondrous new album.
CONCLUSION: enjoy…as much as “Stranded” by Roxy Music