May 11, 2011
Album Review: Friendly Fires - 'Pala'
The perfect poolside party soundtrack
8 / 10
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 Friendly Fires 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 Foals and Klaxons, consider the ante upped second time of asking: ‘Pala’ 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.
With a primary-coloured zeal that frequently borders on the absurd, ‘Pala’ proves the perfect tonic for fans let down by Klaxons’ transition from inspired chancers to jobbing rock band last year. Where ‘Surfing The Void’’s protracted birth throes sucked the mojo clean out of the new rave dons, ‘Pala’ is that rarest and most refreshing of propositions: a second album that actually sounds like it was a blast to make. It’s a record whose arena-sized ambitions work with rather than against the music, lending poise and focus to a sun-soaked carouse whose freewheeling spirit is a joy to behold.
Gone is the knock-kneed funk that blighted parts of their debut, replaced by relentless high-end fizz, plushly carpeted basslines and exotically plumed synths of every conceivable colour. Opener and single ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ sets the tone beautifully: it’s a Godzilla of a tune, jolting piano stabs and dry-ice synth laid over a clattering, samba-like rhythm. One more instrument in the mix, you feel, and the whole ridiculous edifice would come tumbling down – but it doesn’t, and it’s hard to recall such stylised excess working so well anywhere outside of Duran Duran in their peacocking ’80s prime.
‘Blue Cassette’ starts out with what sounds like the loop from Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time’ before launching into the kind of dizzying chorus that’ll have you begging for the oxygen tent a few bars in. ‘Running Away’ does Technicolor harmony pop better than anything this side of Mariah Carey’s untouchable ‘Fantasy’, and masks an unusually bitchy lyric: “If the Northern Lights were shining/You’d turn away”. ‘Hurting’ sounds like J Dilla producing Hall & Oates in tiny white shorts, and is altogether lovelier than a naughty sun-cream rub. It’s followed by the title track’s gorgeous, Junior Boys-like slow jam, whose breathy sensuality showcases frontman Ed Macfarlane’s newly caressing tones.
‘Show Me Lights’ is presumably the tune the boys are aiming to sing should that Brit Awards collaboration with Rihanna ever materialise, while ‘Helpless’ closes out the record with the liquid come-up vibes of Kanye’s lost-in-da-club masterpiece ‘Flashing Lights’, complete with vaguely druggy lyrics about losing yourself in the ocean and stuff. Admittedly, amid all this swooning the band find time for a couple of duffers — ‘Hawaiian Air’’s goofy in-flight ode (er, “watching a film with a talking dog”, anyone?) is the one moment where the record’s exuberance feels forced, and ‘True Love’ falls back a little on the half-assed James Murphy-isms of yore.
But, in the end, resistance is futile. Big, bounteous of hook and packed with more senseless beauty than an acre of rainforest, ‘Pala’ offers the sort of agreeable nonsense every good summer needs as its soundtrack. Dig out those short shorts, and get on it already.
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