Friendly Fires - Pala
In September 2008, three gents from St Albans started a fire burning with a debut album that would later be nominated for the acclaimed Mercury Music Prize. Second time around, Friendly Fires have made the wise decision to release their sophomore effort ahead of summer, when its sun-drenched contents are sure to be doubly appreciated. Label XL are already winning, following this year’s phenomenal success of Adele, another artist who returned after a 2008 introduction; will Friendly Fires burn even brighter?
'Live Those Days Tonight' is a stellar first single, capitalising on what made the first album's singles such a success but heightening the dance elements with perfectly judged breakdowns and builds. However, it's 'Blue Cassette' that is clearly Pala's 'Jump in the Pool', its euphoric chorus and big big drums bringing drama to the tale of discovering a long-lost recording of an ex-lover; when Ed MacFarlane sings 'As I hear your voice, it sets my heart on fire', it's more breathtaking than it has any right to be.
Although losing and discovering love is a lyrical mainstay carried over from the debut, many of the songs here seem enamoured with the idea of paradise on earth. Any English Lit grads will be aware the album’s title is a reference to Huxley’s philosophical novel Island, and his central concept of a hidden utopia is a direct influence on the title track, the album’s blissful centrepiece comedown that is tailor-made for taking in a sunset at Café del Mar. Meanwhile, ‘Hawaiian Air’ is more eccentric, beginning with a loop straight out of a computer game which underscores MacFarlane’s observations (‘skipping a meal for a G&T’) before a wide-eyed, euphoric climax where he wonders ‘Can I take this all in?’. The end result is a ‘Club Tropicana’ for scenesters, not miles away from Animal Collective, and demonstrative of the album’s widened scope.
Pala has clearly embraced the tropical influences that were already apparent in tracks like ‘Jump in the Pool’ and ‘Kiss of Life’, with the percussion evoking calypso as much as it does club beats. However, the album’s ‘straighter’ pop songs are still wildly interesting, with ‘Hurting’ combining Discovery-era Daft Punk production with an infectious chorus that appears to have been displaced from a lost Chaka Khan classic. ‘Show Me Light’ boasts crisp R’n’B beats and ‘True Love’ a house sheen upon its funky bassline, while ‘Chimes’ is an undoubted highlight as a dramatic paean to the one that got away (‘I can’t stop chasing your love’) that features the album’s most club-baiting dance beats and, as you would hope, chimes!
After an assured performance on the first record, MacFarlane is even more comfortable in his role this time round. Moving between breathless sentiments, white-boy soul diva and disco falsetto, as evident on the shimmering chorus to 'Running Away', he proves he’s got a lot more to offer as a front man than his now-legendary dance moves. The band’s performance is more assured and there are even more elements and influences at play, with Paul Epworth returning to produce some tracks, meaning this is one second album that genuinely does not disappoint. As the music falls away during a breakdown in final track ‘Helpless’, the sounds of seagulls and a breaking tide will transport you to a time and place when this album really should be heard: on a white sandy beach, the sun’s first or final rays shining down upon you and your inebriated friends as you prepare to embark on your next adventure. Required summer listening.