Having released their first four albums within 9 years, Franz Ferdinand return with their 5th album after an absence of 5 years (not counting 2015’s collaborative FFS/Franz Ferdinand Sparks) and also their first without founding member and guitarist Nick McCarthy. Not a band that has ever gone off the boil in their 16-year history, their last album was their lowest charting yet. McCarthy was also along with singer Alex Kapranos one of the bands mainstays in the song writing dept, so how will the band fare now as it ventures forward post McCarthy?
The pre-album ‘singles’ and TV appearances have been promising, the sound edging more towards New York new wave and post punk, more Talking Heads than XTC (imagine David Byrne singing pre-album single ‘Feel the Love Go’…). Less of a dancey sound than the previous album, vocals are clear in the mix, guitars perhaps slightly less prevalent than before though very much still essential, keyboards and percussion fleshing out the tunes to a much greater level. The production and mix (by Frenchman Philippe Zdar of production and Cassius fame) is very sympathetic towards the songs. The songs mix the simplistic to the interpretational in their lyrical approach, ‘Lazy Boy’ is virtually a nursery rhyme for lay-ins whilst ‘Always Ascending’ is possibly and ode to the departed McCarthy?
Like many bands though some of FF’s early identity seems lost, the essence of what attracted their fans in the first place, the sound is more mainstream than ever before. That’s not really a criticism, it’s a rare band or musician that can maintain their individuality, especially when the pressure’s on to deliver a hit. And ultimately the band do deliver here, the album might be a little singular in pace, but the sound is strong, the songs generally strong and hook laden. The quirkier moments for me stand out the most, ‘Finally’ with it’s shift in pace and odd hooks and ‘Huck and Jim’ has a guitar driven intro that turns out to be a soundtrack for the chorus, there’s shifts in gear, creepy lyrics and invention.
Elsewhere ‘The Academy Award’ is an odd little song about the clamour for approval that the world of social media creates amongst its users, the imagery is clever, but the track is an example of musically the band losing some of it’s individuality. Maybe that’s the point? ‘Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow’ is a creeping ballad of sorts, for me it invokes some of the last David Bowie photographs and has a Bowie-esque sheen in its guitar and keyboard arrangements. There is some filler (‘Lois Lane’); ‘Glimpse of Love’ is awash with keyboards but ends up being the most typically FF track.
Still, you have to say the album is better than you’d expect from a band who’ve taken 5 years to get there. It’s solid, occasionally inventive, though perhaps not as hit laden as previous FF albums. But I’m glad they’re back and I hope another one comes along in decidedly less than 5 years.
(A solid) 7/10.