Franz Ferdinand
Always Ascending
Domino Records

I remember the first time I heard Franz Ferdinand.  I was in Vancouver in the spring of 2004, in a café on Denman St. in the West End, and the track ‘Michael’ was playing.  It was catch as all get out.  I investigated further, wandering across town to A&B Sound on Seymour St. (RIP), gave their début eponymous album a spin and bought it.  Since that day, they have been one of my favourite bands, I must admit.  Their last album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, was somewhat of a surprise, coming a full four years after Tonight.  And it ended on the downer track of ‘Goodbye Lovers and Friends,’ with frontman Alex Kapranos singing:

Good-bye, lovers and friends
So sad to leave you
When they lie and say
‘This is not the end,’
You can laugh as if we are still together
But this really is the end

And so I thought that was that for Franz Ferdinand.  And then came news of the departure of guitarist Mick McCarthy, and there was hope.  If he was departing, doesn’t that mean the band is carrying on?  Right Thoughts was one of my favourite albums of 2013, I played it into the ground in a way I hadn’t with a Franz Ferdinand album since the first one.

Always Ascending was announced a few months ago, and the first single is the title track.  It marked a bit of a shift for the band, which not only replaced McCarthy with Dino Bardot, but also added keyboard player Julian Comrie.  ‘Always Ascending’ is full of synthesized music and processed beats.  And it’s catchy as hell.  Franz Ferdinand have always been a band to dance to, and their music has generally been remixed for greater danciness.

The synth-pop basis of the new album, then, is not all that surprising, though it is jarring, compared to the rock-centric feel of their first four albums.  But it is un-mistakably Franz Ferdinand.  Kapranos is perhaps one of the most singular frontmen in rock today.  I couldn’t tell you what he looks like, but I can recognize his voice anywhere.  But it’s also his lyrics; he’s a story-teller, but his lyrics are often cutting, both gently and viciously.  He also is the primary songwriter of the band, and he has a wicked sense of melody, both in music and in vocals.

But he sounds oddly content on Always Ascending. He’s happy in his lover’s bed (‘Lazy Boy’), remember this is a guy who once proclaimed that he wanted to live alone, so as not to ruin his relationship, which was so-so, with his girlfriend (on Tonight’s aptly titled, ‘Live Alone,’ from 2009).  He’s happy to have finally found the people he was meant to find (‘Finally’).  What the hell?

A bit of old Alex comes out, though, on the killer track ‘Lois Lane,’ about Superman’s girlfriend.  The song traces her brilliant journalistic career, but also suggests problems in her relationship with Clark Kent.  But, Kapranos never liked him anyway.  And then he gets vicious:

At the over thirties singles night
The over thirties singles night
It’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak
It’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak
It’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak