An inconsistent return from the much-loved group...
'Always Ascending'

All of the pre-release fuss is declaring 2013’s ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ as a line in the sand, a bookend to the first phase of Franz. One might be forgiven for interpreting such talk as meaning that ‘Always Ascending’ is the start of a bold new direction. It’s not. Instead, it feels more like the logical follow-up to 2009’s ‘Tonight’.

There’s a similarly electronic focus, even if the production is much improved here. The problem, ultimately, is a lack of memorable hooks. Alex Kapranos’ unmistakable vocal presence dominates, but on tracks like ‘Huck And Jim’, despite an intriguing lyrical conceit built on Tom Sawyer’s characters, there’s a fine line between sounding inventive and dicking around in ‘ironic’ fashion. Add in the mild nausea from the Kasabian-esque transitions on the title track and it’s hard not to see this as a confusing, incoherent record.

There are clearly some strong moments - ‘Lois Lane’ has some neat synth, ‘Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow’ concludes the album in sparse, balladic form, and emphatic highlight ‘Feel The Love Go’ has a gloriously energetic riff plus a full-on sax break - but this doesn’t add up to a decisive and revised mission statement. A frustratingly inconsistent return.

5/10

Words: Gareth James

Dig it? Dig deeper: XTC, Kasabian, LCD Soundsystem

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