Music

Franz Ferdinand, Always Ascending – Glasgow's finest are on the up and up

Franz make their return with a new line-up on their fifth album – and a reignited sense of purpose.

Among the 600 fast-turning pages of Lizzy Goodman’s book Meet Me in the Bathroom – an entertainingly sprawling and scuzzy oral history of the New York City music scene 2001-2011 – I was pleased to find three tangential cameos from my home city of Glasgow. Two of them dependably cruddy.

There’s a bit when The Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti gets in a drunken argument with a local in a late-night curry house and subsequently breaks his hand punching a postbox in a fit of rage. There’s another bit where a member of LCD Soundsystem, on the band’s first visit to the city, comes fleeing back from an ill-advised evening jog because he’s just witnessed a horrific act of football-related violence. Ah, Glasgow.

Then there’s the meteoric rise of Franz Ferdinand from Glasgow’s vibrant music scene (it’s not all fighting here, I promise) – to become by far the best British band to invade New York and the US in the wake of The Strokes, Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs et al’s breakout successes, and sell danceable grooves, sharp fashion and starchy riffs back to Americans with added arty wit and flair. For all its hype, vanity and ultimately transience, it was an exciting era in music made to feel all the more accessible by Franz Ferdinand’s part in it, and Goodman’s book is a refreshing reminder.

They’ve brought their electronic dance influences much further to the fore on songs such as the new album’s transcendent synth and arpeggiator-licked title track

Second lives tend not to be forthcoming for groups so intrinsically tethered to a specific period in music. Much as Franz Ferdinand have successfully refreshed their appeal with every new record, and side-projects such as their recent FFS collaboration with Sparks, when guitarist Nick McCarthy announced in 2016 that he was taking a break from the band to spend more time with his family it was hard not to feel like the last of the old magic might be going with him. It’s a pleasure, then, to find them sounding so renewed on their fifth album Always Ascending – their first since the recruitment of two new members in keys player and guitarist Julian Corrie, AKA electropop producer Miaoux Miaoux, and ex-1990s guitarist Dino Bardot.

Electronic dance influences have long been close to the surface in Franz Ferdinand’s music. They’ve brought those influences much further to the fore on songs such as the new album’s transcendent synth and arpeggiator-licked title track.

And yet the same things that made Franz Ferdinand feel so face-slappingly thrilling in the first place are preserved and sharpened too. A sense of decadence (on Lazy Boy singer Alex Kapranos makes it plain that he remains a man never to be up in time to catch Jeremy Kyle). A sense of daring (“we’re going to America, we’re gonna tell them about the NHS”, Kapranos sings on the slouching Huck and Jim, a gentle goad to right-wingers across the pond). A sense of almost cinematic drama (the Lee Hazlewood-esque The Academy Award feels like a sister piece to the similarly classy Walk Away). All that and guitar riffs so pointed you could practically pick your teeth with them.

If you haven’t given a Franz Ferdinand record a proper go since their debut album took on New York’s finest and won middle of last decade, now might just be the time, as their second life auspiciously begins. Yes they hail from Glasgow, but they won’t try and fight you. Promise.

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