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Album Review: Friendly Fires - 'Pala'

The perfect poolside party soundtrack

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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 [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.

With a primary-coloured zeal that frequently borders on the absurd, [b]‘Pala’[/b] proves the perfect tonic for fans let down by [a]Klaxons[/a]’ transition from inspired chancers to jobbing rock band last year. Where [b]‘Surfing The Void’[/b]’s protracted birth throes sucked the mojo clean out of the new rave dons, [b]‘Pala’[/b] 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 [b]‘Live Those Days Tonight’[/b] 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.

[b]‘Blue Cassette’[/b] starts out with what sounds like the loop from [a]Daft Punk[/a]’s [b]‘One More Time’[/b] before launching into the kind of dizzying chorus that’ll have you begging for the oxygen tent a few bars in. [b]‘Running Away’[/b] does Technicolor harmony pop better than anything this side of [a]Mariah Carey[/a]’s untouchable [b]‘Fantasy’[/b], and masks an unusually bitchy lyric: “If the Northern Lights were shining/You’d turn away”. [b]‘Hurting’[/b] 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.

[b]‘Show Me Lights’[/b] is presumably the tune the boys are aiming to sing should that Brit Awards collaboration with [a]Rihanna[/a] ever materialise, while [b]‘Helpless’[/b] closes out the record with the liquid come-up vibes of Kanye’s lost-in-da-club masterpiece [b]‘Flashing Lights’[/b], 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 — [b]‘Hawaiian Air’[/b]’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 [b]‘True Love’[/b] 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, [b]‘Pala’[/b] offers the sort of agreeable nonsense every good summer needs as its soundtrack. Dig out those short shorts, and get on it already.

Alex Denney


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Video: Friendly Fires' Track-By-Track Guide To 'Pala'

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