18. Franz Ferdinand, Always Ascending (Domino)
A big challenge for rock bands that crack the mainstream pop consciousness is to sustain that level of interest among listeners. After all, today’s pop music is more ephemeral and unpredictable than ever as younger audiences continue to drift towards hip-hop and more viral novelties. Instead of chasing that audience, though, it’s smarter (and more realistic) for a band like Franz Ferdinand to realize that they’ll probably never equal the success of “Take Me Out” in 2004, put the past behind them, ignore the radio twits who refer to them as a “one-hit wonder”, and keep evolving. After a couple of decent-but-not-great outings, Alex Kapranos and his Glasgow crew hit the reset button on their fifth album (and first in five years), and they come out sounding mature, rejuvenated, and a lot more experimental. Personally I liken Always Ascending to the world-weary, slightly jaded, and dryly funny approach that Jarvis Cocker and Pulp took on such 1998 tracks as “Help the Aged” and “Party Hard”. Thanks to a strong electronic element – as well as some fabulous odes to Giorgio Moroder – this record grooves hard: the pulsating title track, the hilarious “Lazy Boy”, the new romantic-tinged “Lois Lane”, and “Glimpse of Love” find the band flourishing as they embrace dance music more. It feels like something they were born to do but never quite dove in headfirst until now. Meanwhile the wry “The Academy Award” sounds like classic Scott Walker from the late-60s. It all builds to a tremendous climax on the final two songs: “Feel the Love Go” just might be the most fully-realized Franz Ferdinand song to date (that saxophone solo is irresistible), while “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow” concludes things on a brooding note, again echoing Pulp circa 1998. The core fan base might be smaller than it was 15 years ago, but Franz Ferdinand are learning the creative rewards can be much greater.