It’s hard to hate Friendly Fires. Like, you’d have to be a really miserable sod for the St Albans trio to drive you up the wall. Their songs are joyful, inoffensive and just – y’know – pretty damn nice most of the time.
Their 2008 debut album was timed perfectly. They snuck into the mainstream right behind nu-rave big-hitters Klaxons, and offered a more accessible than some of the indie scene’s stranger prospects. The follow-up, 2011’s ‘Pala’ was similarly vibrant, but added a more grown-up sheen and the ensuing festival run, in all its wriggly glory was a resounding success. Again, it’s really, really hard to hate.
The problem with new album ‘Inflorescent’, is that even harder to love any of these songs. This is not a massive departure from their tried-and-tested sound: there are similar grooves, recognisable melody lines and Ed Macfarlane’s exuberant personality looms larger than ever. But after eight years and a ‘comeback’ tour that was announced almost two years ago, the crawl to new music has been gruelling – the goodwill and excitement seems to have faded. The tropical fruit-punch has gone flat, and the pool’s gone a bit cold.
‘Inflorescent’ is a limp retread of existing ground they’ve already covered. The tooting ‘Can’t Wait Forever’ is not quite as enjoyable as it seems to think it is, while ‘Silhouettes’ and ‘Love Like Waves’ already appear resigned to exist as montage music for ITV2 adverts. The less said about the garish ‘80s revival on ‘Sleeptalking’ and ‘Kiss and Rewind’, the better.
The second half proves frustrating in a different way. As the beats get heavier and the rhythms embrace more electronic-stylings, it’s clear that the second phase of their career can be a success. ‘Lack Of Love’, a cover of Charles B and Adonis’ house classic ‘Lack Of Love’, slithers and broods with a twisted edge, while the French Touch-flecked ‘Almost Midnight’ is one of the few moments that could feasibly get dropped in a sweaty club. By embracing the darker aspects of their sonic palette, the opportunity to be festival heroes and and cult rave figures presents itself, but isn’t seized – spritely moments in an album that too frequently plays it safe.
Friendly Fires remain knowingly cheesy and in-your-face and their Technicolor live shows will continue to thrill regardless. The worst part of ‘Inflorescent’ is that you won’t hate it; you’ll just forget you’ve even listened to it.