Friendly Fires ‘Pala’ – Review

2 Jul

I always thought that Friendly Fires would be one of those bands that make a couple of great songs and then spend the rest of their career trying to re-create them. Their self-titled debit was decent but each and every song sounded like a remake of their two early hits ‘Jump in the Pool’ and ‘Paris’. I think that to an extent it’s something they still suffer from; sophomore effort ‘Pala’ is an accomplished album that is both more sophisticated and more care-free than the rather lightweight debut, but it never really betters those original two classics. However, Friendly Fires are band with confidence, technical know-how and boundless enthusiasm, so whilst ‘Pala’ is ever so slightly lacking in the tunes department, the group make up for that short coming with their good time, in your face, technicolor, dancefloor assault.

The big problem I had with the debut was that, despite it’s maximalist leanings, the band seemed to be dipping their toes in the water. They threw the kitchen sink in the mix but they still seemed a bit wary about breaking free from their indie dance constraints. It was like they were too cool to make the album they truly wanted to make. On ‘Pala’ they right that wrong and in pre-release interviews they bigged up early Take That, New Kids on the Block, House music and old school funk. These influences seep through on virtually ever song and Friendly Fires are all the more interesting for embracing the pop music that time and taste forgot. Friendly Fires have made an album that essentially sounds like ‘Off the Wall’ as re-imagined in 1992 by a boy band doing the club circuit in Ibiza. And yet they retain their indie sensibilities and still have the force of a live, fully functioning guitar band.

The nu-rave stylings of the debut have been fleshed out, and there is a much wider musical palate being used here that includes horns, slap bass, and a whole host of instruments I wouldn’t even be able to name. This is maximalist to the extreme, it seems the band’s motto is ‘why use one instrument when ten will do?’ It’s true to say that Friendly Fires aren’t afraid of indulgence, and nor should they be when they indulge so wonderfully. When Ed sings about travelling to Hawaii and breathing in the tropical air (on ‘Hawaiian Air’ surprise surprise), you really BELIEVE IT and if you close your eyes you could almost be on your way there with him. It’s this ability to ‘sell it’ that separates Friendly Fires from some of their more try hard contemporaries, but it’s this same trait that makes them slightly hard to love. They remind me a bit of Slurm Mackenzie of Futurama fame or the guy everyone knows who just never switches off; ‘Pala’ never pauses for breath, and so it never lets you catch your breath, never gives you time to think, or even a second to just relax and take in its beauty. But that’s not to say I wasn’t seriously impressed by it, and the likes of ‘Live These Days Tonight’ and ‘Pull Me Back to Earth’ are too fun to resist.

And so ‘Pala’ is undeniably a party album, and a summer party album at that. A summer party album that demands to be heard on an exotic beach somewhere – obviously abroad. To review it without having heard it in that context feels almost unfair, as I have no doubt that it would do the job perfectly. Listening to it at home, on a rather over cast evening, (a typical English summer Evening in fact) the album sounds a bit too repetitive, a bit too over the top and basically a bit too much (even though the likes of ‘Chimes’ and ‘Hurting’ do make me feel a lot sunnier inside). Still, when the time is right I have little doubt that ‘Pala’ will speak to me in a way it hasn’t up until now, and maybe (when the weather is warm) I will warm to it in a way I didn’t warm to Friendly Fires debut.

7.5/10

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