Album Review: Friendly Fires – Pala

By on Wednesday, 11th May 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

It was with much trepidation that I queued up the new Friendly Fires for a tentative first listen. After their largely DIY (yet sounding polished) self-titled debut album released 3 years ago that I still adore to this day, I figured the three from St. Albans were going to have to knock this one out of the park to impress me (and so far, sophomore albums released in 2011 have been largely hohum in my opinion). The cover of ‘Pala’, adorned by a brilliantly coloured parrot, clues you in that this is going to be a tropical-sounding album, which is perfect considering it’s being released right before the summer festival season gets in full swing. According to this Purple Revolver interview, it was entirely written by lead singer / bassist / synth player Ed Macfarlane, so he is going to be either your saviour or pain in the neck, depending on your first impression of this album. The band again employed Paul Epworth for production duties.

‘Live Those Days Tonight’, the first single, got its first airplay on Zane Lowe’s Radio1 programme in March. Unfortunately, I was not impressed in its lack of jangly guitars, a trend that was started by their stop-gap single release in summer 2009, ‘Kiss of Life’, described virtually everywhere as “tropicalia”. The echoey, introductory ethereal vocals recall ‘Jump in the Pool’, but there’s just too much going on here and in this case, it does not serve Friendly Fires well, as we know what they’re capable of from 2008’s ‘Friendly Fires’, relatively more stripped down (more can be read about the single from this previous TGTF post). With guest clavinet from Holy Ghost!‘s Alex Frankel, ‘True Love’, which I’m guessing is going to be another single down the road, suffers from the same fate. So if you’re more of a Friendly Fires purist, quite possibly you’re going to have a problem with ‘Pala’.

‘Blue Cassette’ reminisces in the days before digital music, when people traded physical plastic tapes instead of mp3 files over the internet. ‘Hurting’ is another track for reminiscing, if you look back at the cool beats of ’70s disco with fondness, as the trio have redone it with 21st century dance flair. The title track ‘Pala’ gets bonus points for having a chill, slinky, sexy vibe on an album that is otherwise high on life and therefore up tempoed. ‘Show Me Lights’ is a surprising highlight, showing how to do an r&b infused track that will get hips swinging on the dance floor. If only for Edd Gibson’s bouncy guitars, ‘Pull Me Back to Earth’ is a fun, boppy tune that won’t leave your head.

The misses? Macfarlane’s falsetto in ‘Running Away’. Oh dear. Just don’t go there. The computer bleeping in ‘Hawaiian Air’: the only grating thing about this otherwise slice of pop sunshine. ‘Helpless’, the closing track, is another slow jam like ‘Pala’ but this one drags its feet. Overall, there’s obvious signs of maturity in the writing and instrumentation on ‘Pala’. But for some reason, I’m not moved by the lyrics (but this might be an entirely moot point, considering this is a “dance album” and therefore no-one’s going to be scouring Macfarlane’s word choices anyway, they’re more interested in his dance moves onstage) and I just feel claustrophobic and not energised by hearing too many layers of sound.

I do know from personal experience that Friendly Fires is an amazing live band so maybe like the Temper Trap‘s ‘Conditions’ (another album I gave a not-so-great rating on), I’m guessing this is one of those better served up live. Want to listen for yourself? Stream the album live below, courtesy of the Hype Machine.

6/10

‘Pala’, the second album from Friendly Fires, will be released on Monday 16 May on XL Recordings. The band play tonight at Glasgow Arches and tomorrow at Manchester Sound Control (both shows sold out) just before appearing as the headlining act Friday night at Brighton Dome for 2011’s Great Escape.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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