Release Date: May 24, 2011
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
At their best, Friendly Fires crystallize the escapist thrills of summertime, dancing, and parties into a fizzy synergy of indie, dance, post-punk, and dream pop. They do this even more effortlessly on their second album, Pala, recruiting producer Paul Epworth to help them couch their incredibly immediate pop hooks in intriguing sounds. These songs sound far bigger than Friendly Fires', and bolder too, with a more consolidated approach that shows how much more confident the band is here.
FRIENDLY FIRES play live at the Phoenix and a DJ set after-party at Wrongbar Monday (May 30). See listing. Rating: NNNN Friendly Fires used to sound like a UK version of the Rapture's early 00s dance rock, which made for some fun live shows but seemed about five years too late to be very exciting. On their sophomore album, though, they've dropped the post-punk guitar riffs and embraced full-on pop with such enthusiasm that even Backstreet Boys references start making sense.
The eponymous 2008 debut by St Albans' finest took them around the world, a voyage relived here in the outstanding Hawaiian Air's tale of take-offs, turbulence and touchdowns and "skipping the meal for a G&T". Otherwise, they build a more sophisticated sound where the first album left off, mixing 80s pop and Ibiza culture into a blissful collision of euphoria and reflection. Tracks sip pina coladas, gaze into sunsets and adopt Kajagoogoo-gooey harmonies and descending Syndrum patterns in an apparent revamp of Club Tropicana.
Friendly Fires always did have the potential to be one of the UK’s great pop bands, if only they’d stop pretending they were an indie band. On Pala they’ve lived up to that promise, evolving from making-dance-hip-again to full-on poppers‘o’clock. Last time they were bringing the funk. This time they’re taking us off to Ibiza with a couple of Es hidden in their shoes.
At a time when laptop twiddlers appear as gods and the musical landscape shifts with a click of the refresh button, there’s something about the words ‘dance-punk band from St Albans’ that feels wronger than a fleet of parasailing donkeys. Really, what could be more passé in 2011 than some skinny jeans-clad berk thrusting his tiny cock all up in your grill as he gamely frugs through Talking Heads’ back catalogue?There was a little of this nerd-boy thrusting about [a]Friendly Fires[/a] when they emerged, cowbells blazing, in 2006, but their self-titled debut swiftly put paid to all that by showcasing the band’s increasingly assured pop touch. And if that record had a niggling, bronze-medal feel about it in the wake of similarly fluoro-tinged debuts from [a]Foals[/a] and [a]Klaxons[/a], consider the ante upped second time of asking: [b]‘Pala’[/b] doesn’t so much meet with expectations as have a quiet word in their ear, buy them a Babycham and slink off with their girlfriends at closing time.
To my mind a great pop song is like living on a little island of paradise, surrounded by inviting oceans and glorious radiant sunshine: lovely, if a bit mindless. But, after the grey winter, I am sure you need a holiday – so it gives me great pleasure to introduce Pala. The world has missed Friendly Fires and two and a half years since their debut they are back with an album that is, from the name to the cover to the music, both simple and big and colourful; as the summer proper approaches, and the sun hangs opulently across the blue may sky, I can’t think of a better time.
When Friendly Fires arrived several years ago, their expansive, electro-flecked tunes offered a uniquely upbeat take on feeling down on yourself. On Pala, the British trio seems to have found happiness. The album blends layers of African-influenced percussion with Fires’ two trademarks: sweeping synths and Ed MacFarlane’s elastic delivery, all howls and feminine falsetto.
There's a song on Friendly Fires' eponymous 2008 debut that's called "Jump in the Pool". The lyrical concerns are pretty straightforward (hint: jumping and pools are involved), but what makes it one of the LP's standouts is how its chorus takes the titular advice and just goes for it, changing from peppy polyrhythms to fast, charging lushness in a matter of seconds. It's a melodic shift that's as over-the-top as it is impressively delivered-- but that's kind of the point.
Aldous Huxley’s final book Island concerns the fictional land of Pala, a hedonic drug-fueled sustainable secular humanist utopia to stand in contrast with Brave New World’s dystopic future London. Friendly Fires have named their sophomore album after that fictional island, but those expecting anything literary, ideological, or visionary out of this effort will be underwhelmed. Instead, the band focuses on the euphoric rushes of decadence and pleasure.
St Albans trio take a massive step forwards with this celebration of a second album. Lou Thomas 2011 When a hip hop stalwart like ?uestlove expresses vigorous approval of three white boys from St Albans, they must be doing something right. The esteemed Roots drummer/producer’s own crew appear as the house band on US show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, yet he felt moved to tweet surprise and admiration at Friendly Fires’ March performance of Live Those Days Tonight.