Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
It created the conditions for the Trash phenomenon, Bloc Party, Justice, new rave, bands playing at Fabric, electro DJs playing at the Barfly, Foals and, yes, Friendly Fires. Instead of becoming Turin Brakes #2 they got turned on to Chicago house, Kompakt records and getting sweaty in a Berlin tenement at 6am. And while descendents of skinny Strokesian scuffle are sounding very tired indeed, Friendly Fires have made a Rapture-ous record that shudders with joy, passion and lusty nowness.
Everything starts with a groove – an insistent clatter like a bullet train rippling through an empty station. Into its slipstream they fling vintage synth peals and jagged ninja-guitar stars. Edd Gibson might have been known to attack his axe with a drill onstage but Friendly Fires aren’t angular, much less angry: they know when to unleash almighty endorphin rushes alongside the ghosts of dreamgaze bands like Slowdive and Cocteau Twins. ‘Paris’’s chorus swirls like a snow-cloud, leaving you reeling around in strobey slo-mo before drummer Jack Savidge flicks the switch to snap the rhythm sharply back into its runners.
Then there are Ed Macfarlane’s vocals, always striving for that epic pop authority, making ridiculous promises (“One day we’re gonna live in Paris”) or commanding you to “jump in the pool” with such zeal sodden clothes can be the only outcome. But he also plays most of the bass and synth parts on ‘Friendly Fires’, so he knows exactly when to submerge his vocal in the mix and when to loom over it like a glistening god. Ed might not be a lyrical genius but his evocation of love’s confusion in the epicentre of Saturday night’s sensory overload – “I close my eyes on the dancefloor and forget about you/I lose myself in flashing colours” – is spot on.
Friendly Fires songs are all manufactured to a similar formula but there’s a whole lab shelf lined with addictive variants. ‘White Diamonds’ rolls its hips lasciviously, its weird superspeed glam rhythm borrowed from ‘schaffel’ – a sound briefly fashionable among Cologne’s techno glitterati. ‘Strobe’ homes in on the pristine electronic pop of Junior Boys. ‘Lovesick’ gorges on glitzy disco-house, with Ed’s ravishing vocal unashamedly stealing from Shakedown’s ‘At Night’. Meanwhile the soaring single ‘Jump In The Pool’ is as enticing a crossover prospect as Coldplay with a cowbell. The only disappointment is that half of these songs have been released before, albeit in slightly different versions on super-limited singles. However, the fact that oldies like ‘On Board’ are easily outclassed by freakier new efforts tells us Friendly Fires are on an unstoppably stratospheric trajectory. Do what the man says and jump in.
The Cavan teenagers attack album two with abandon, largely at the expense of quality
A still-vital John Lydon rages towards retirement on a saucy, scuzzy new album
10 Tracks You Need To Hear This Week (26/8/2015)
Oxford's finest flit between gnarly rock and frustrating slickness on an often-brilliant fourth album