About ten years ago I remember saying to a friend that now would be the best time for Interpol to split up, following three truly great and – especially to me – very important studio albums. My friend faced me with a lack of understanding, asking me why I want one of my favourite bands to actually split up. ‘It’s because I wanted to protect the legacy’ I probably answered as I was pretty sure that you can’t keep such a level of quality up any longer. My friend just shrugged and blamed it on my music nerdism but over the years I had that feeling over and over again with a few bands. When is the perfect time to let go? To call it a day and move on? ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’ as Neil Young once famously put it. Or in the case of many bands in the music history:
It’s better to split up before you become a shadow of your former self.
A lot of bands manage to constantly grow with their career (if the industry let’s them) and become better and better with every release (The National are a good example here) but what about those who launch their career with an epic impact and have to go on from that starting point? And yes, that brings us directly to Franz Ferdinand and their fifth full-length which arrives these days. The band’s first album in five years goes by the name Always Ascending and that couldn’t be further away from the truth because it actually marks a new low point in the discography of the influential British band. Two years ago guitarist Nick McCarthy left the band on good terms and although a causality might be too easy here, his sharp guitar play and energy is clearly missed. The new Franz Ferdinand album is a posh piece of soulless disco-pop that isn’t entirely bad but also not very good. It’s pretty dispensable and that might be an even harder verdict. You clearly sense that Franz Ferdinand and their two new band members are looking for a new direction, even if they sound like if they are lacking of a creative compass. There is just so little tension left in their once so furious sound that you automatically sense the mediocrity of the songwriting, something that worked way better on all past four LP’s. And especially if you compare it to their self-titled debut from 2004 you can’t ignore the signs of fatigue. Just take this old performance of Take Me Out and compare it with one from last year. It seems like all the energy is gone.
Going on just for the sake of going on?
Franz Ferdinand are not the only band from their iconic generation of indie bands which suffers from those symptoms. And quite often a change in the band’s line-up is connected to it. Bloc Party, one of my other favourite groups from that era (which were already labeled ‘The Next Franz Ferdinand’ only one year after they released their debut) fell apart with their rhythm section following their fourth album. Back then I already made my peace with that and was down with the fact that their 2013 Nextwave Sessions EP was a fitting way to end the band after a stunning decade. But no, leading man Kele Okereke had no intentions of giving up, recorded a very quiet and transitional LP with remaining bandmate Russell Lissack and found new bandmembers in the aftermath. Only a few elements of the original magic were left on 2016’s Hymns. We currently have to wait and see how a first full release by this new formation will sound like but considering the fact that Okereke isn’t very much into loud rock sounds anymore I’m keeping my expectations low. The list goes on in many forms. Maximo Park continue to do what they’ve always been doing but it feels as if the world lost interest in their sound. Kaiser Chiefs went full mainstream pop and lost all of what was left of their coolness on their last LP. And don’t even get me started on The Killers! Editors also changed their line-up but they somehow managed to take their sound to a satisfying new direction. Same goes for Interpol who managed to keep to their quality on a solid level although I somehow still think they’ve said everything they needed to say on those first three records. So I stick with my opinion from one decade ago.
Of course it’s as illusive as it is arrogant to tell a band to simply ‘quit’ when you think it’s time for them to go. If they still love making music together why shouldn’t they? Well, for a fan who came to the music for certain reasons it’s just really tough to see those reasons vanish more and more until nothing’s left anymore (are you feeling me, Portugal. The Man fans?). In the end it makes you wonder why you even fell in love with the band in the first place.
In the wake of the Always Ascending announcement I listened to the first two Franz Ferdinand albums again for the first time in years and I suddenly remembered. But then I listened to the new one immediately after it and even if you leave the nostalgic factor aside it’s just a really random release. There is no relevance anymore. Bands like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, The Strokes and others will probably continue to play big festivals as mid-sized bands in the line-up that still attract a certain crowd thanks to these modern classics. In some way all these bands are on a direct way to become the oldie bands of our generation if they are not careful enough. Some of the greatest bands in history didn’t last long (The Beatles, Joy Division, The Smiths), some just decided to pop up every few years with new albums (Portishead, Massive Attack) to not damage their legacy too much. But that’s probably not an option for this younger generation, especially from a financial perspective. As you can see I don’t have an easy solution or one simple explanation for this dilemma. It’s just really, really sad and that’s a characteristic I wasn’t expecting to connect with a band like Franz Ferdinand. Consider this fire no longer out of control.