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Franz Ferdinand: Always Ascending review – geometric diagrams of pop

Franz Ferdinand.
Eccentric … Franz Ferdinand.

It is 14 years since Franz Ferdinand helped propel indie into the British mainstream with their single Take Me Out, a lustful song that mixed Roxy Music’s polished theatrics with the spiky, wry post-punk of Josef K. Yet while the Glasgow group were easy to admire, they were hard to truly love, lacking the sweaty warmth that emanated from their more ramshackle peers. Their fifth album finds them still with the same problem: it’s a collection of coolly masterful tracks that tend to feel clever rather than endearing. The trade-off is apparent on the titular opener (Always Ascending is a reference to a sonic trick whereby a piece of music seems to be constantly building to a climax), which matches its tightly coiled disco beat to a melody that systemically slackens into something sweepingly poppy. The same goes for Lazy Boy, which is memorable for vaguely creepy lyrics and a highly enjoyable psychobilly riff.

Much of the appeal of Franz Ferdinand’s mechanical pop-rock is conditional on your taste for Alex Kapranos’s impassive and slightly strained croon. No more so than during a two-song interlude halfway through the album – The Academy Award and Lois Lane – during which the jerky blasts of noise are replaced by the kind of twee, narrative-heavy orchestral pop practiced by the Divine Comedy. It’s a style that demands a charismatic voice, and lyrics that walk the fine line between acerbic and heartbreaking. Yet while the storytelling is suitably eccentric, there remains something inhibited and unfeeling about Franz Ferdinand’s songwriting. It’s like a geometric diagram of an evocative pop song, rather than the real thing.

Huck and Jim, in which the band express a desire to export the NHS and DSS to the US, with the help of stormy guitars and a Boy Scout-style chant, sees the two styles collide, while the record climaxes with a duo of stomping disco tracks furnished with pleasingly dour melodies. They hammer home Always Ascending’s technical brilliance, but a visceral emotional connection remains elusive.

This article titled "Franz Ferdinand: Always Ascending review – geometric diagrams of pop" was written by Rachel Aroesti, for The Guardian on Friday 9 February 2018 09.15am

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