St Albans trio take a massive step forwards with this celebration of a second album.
Lou Thomas 2011
When a hip hop stalwart like ?uestlove expresses vigorous approval of three white boys from St Albans, they must be doing something right. The esteemed Roots drummer/producer’s own crew appear as the house band on US show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, yet he felt moved to tweet surprise and admiration at Friendly Fires’ March performance of Live Those Days Tonight.
For the show’s recording the tropical banger, which opens Pala in striking fashion, was augmented with carnival percussion, a sound Friendly Fires have been working towards in earnest since the release of their excellent eponymous debut album. When that first record was married with the trio’s sweaty, frantic live shows, any listener with a pulse could be in no doubt of the band’s scorching future.
Pala, though, takes the lead from terrific 2009 single Kiss of Life. It’s more about garlands and suntans than the New Order synths and straight four-to-the-floor beats of old. Blue Cassette, an utterly joyful parade of polyrhythms and wonky loops overseen by stellar producer Paul Epworth, epitomises the album. When Ed Macfarlane sings, "As I hear your voice, it sets my heart on fire," only the soberest of men and women won’t want to parade around in revealing swimwear and drizzle viscous, mango-flavoured fluids on themselves. It’s swiftly succeeded by Running Away, a more sedate and sophisticated track but still defiantly beachy, like The Invisible playing volleyball.
Soon, Hurting takes things in a different direction. There are narcotic waves of blissful Washed Out drone crossed with more Macfarlane emoting, this time in an early-80s pop-soul manner. It’s the greatest song you’ve never heard on your hairdressers’ stereo. Elsewhere, for fans disappointed (so far) with the lack of anthems akin to On Board, there is True Love. Here you’ll find a nifty Edd Gibson bassline and Ibiza piano house chords in the breakdown; there will probably be babies conceived to it before the summer is out.
Friendly Fires have already proved themselves, but this second effort is a mighty step upwards. It is another terrific, clattering celebration of an album that sounds nothing like its peers, but hopefully will be rewarded with sales to dwarf Lady Gaga’s. That may be ridiculously unlikely, but the best thing about Pala is that it leaves you thinking anything might be possible.