“Float On” by Modest Mouse and “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand could not be more different, but it was all of 14 years ago that the two songs featuring piercing minor scale riffs hit the radios. The two bands are almost inextricably linked in the popular imagination for the singular moment in which both bands seemed omnipresent, except for the fact that Modest Mouse was on its way out after a string of Indie masterpieces, reaching their culmination in Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and Franz Ferdinand was just getting started. I rehash this all not to trounce all over the memory of Modest Mouse, a once great band who has gone mostly dormant, but to parallel the career trajectory of the two bands. From that moment on, Franz Ferdinand has dwelled deeper and deeper into Indie status, but the music they have been releasing has been all the better for it.
The pun, at least to me, is that the name of their newest album is Always Ascending. For a band that will most assuredly never reach the fame they saw with their first single, which seemed like a gimmick at the time, the name is strangely optimistic. That is owed in major part to the dance sound that simmered below the surface until their third album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (my favorite of theirs). It’s a sound that suits them well, considering other bands that straddled the line between dance music and post-punk include New Order, Beck, and LCD Soundsystem, they aren’t in bad company. Always Ascending sits well in the company of those bands, with a song like “Lois Lane” coming straight from the Guero b-sides, and the title track doing LCD better than LCD has done it since retiring a few years ago (yes, this includes American Dream). In fact, according to press releases, the album has seen the biggest radio play for the band in a decade with its two initial singles.
What we get is an utterly listenable album, making the five years since the last proper Franz Ferdinand album bearable. One of my favorite tracks on the album, “The Academy Award”, is a rightful heir to “Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914)” in tone and emotional changes that make the Zombies track a tour-de-force. But the sardonic lyrics of Alex Kapranos had me listening closer to the rest of the album. A song like “Huck and Jim” about traveling in America is both sad and hilarious (including what I believe to be an ill-advised line about fat-shaming). Kapranos tries to identify and ridicule the ills of modern American society, and to explain things like the National Health Service (NHS) and Department of Social Security (DSS) because we are admittedly bad at taking care of our own citizens.
This thread pulses through the entire album. Maybe I didn’t catch it all those years before (and after finishing this, yes, I will probably be revisiting their catalog), but there’s a definite pessimism to the album; most notably with a song with the line “don’t kill me slow” repeated. It’s an appropriate line—no band lasts forever creating new and exciting music except maybe Bob Dylan—and it brings up Neil Young’s famous query: is it better to burn out or fade away? Modest Mouse burned out all those years ago, even after adding a former Smiths member to their lineup, and have now released one album in the last decade to mostly mixed reviews. Franz Ferdinand, the band that shared the spotlight with them so many years ago has continued to release music that us critics, at least, seem to enjoy. Always Ascending is no exception.
Purchase your copy of Always Ascending HERE
Article: Christopher Gilson