Album review: Friendly Fires - Pala

Album review: Friendly Fires - Pala | Random J Pop

I actually thought Friendly fires were dead for a hot minute or two.

It's been a good four years since I'd stumbled across the awesome "Paris" and was under the spell of their funk drenched music and front man Ed McFarlane's hypnotic vocals. Vocals which have such an effect on me that I'm convinced the man is a mutant whose career is managed by some bald white man who kicks it in a floating wheelchair.

In that time the group managed to prick tease with a re-release of their debut album, which came with an all new single...and then...not much else on the mainstream front. But happened. Word of the new album emerges. Friendly fires aren't dead! Rejoice! Well...either that or once again mutant powers are at play. Could Ed McFarlane have the powers of Dazzler, Vertigo and the Phoenix!? I really don't know. And I really don't care. Just as long as the good music keeps rolling in. And with Pala, it sho' as hell rolls in.

Pala kicks off with "Live those days tonight". A rousing start to the album, ringing with the familiarity of Empire of the sun. Thumping, euphoric and funky. This song makes me wanna put on some eye liner, some glow in the dark face paint, fine the most colourful jacket and the whitest boots I can find (pretty much everything which is on the floor of Ke$ha's bedroom) and just get the fuck down. Friendly fires do a great job of recapturing the 80's good times. They were too young to party back in those days. As was I. But this song is the nearest thing to living in that moment. And for that, this song succeeds with as many flying colours as there are on Pala's album cover.

"Blue cassette" is one of the best songs on this album. In a word? Perfection. Completely different from anything the group have done before, yet within the Friendly fires soundscape. Featuring a percussive set of drum lines, blaring horn sections, loud synths, a disco loop which permeates the whole song and a general sense of 80's euphoria - this song is destined be stuck on repeat on many a summer playlist. The song is just plain perfect. The anthem to my Summer is officially this song.

The funk gets dialed up some on "Running away", being one of the first songs on the album which sounds remotely like something (anything!) from Friendly fires' debut. After "Live those days tonight" and "Blue cassette" rolling in like a pair of monsters to keep you on your feet, "Running away" rolls in to give you a bit of breather to shuffle from side to side and give it the ol' bobble head. The ethereal bells which run throughout the song and the picked bass are almost hypnotising, and that's all before the woo man himself Ed McFarlane opens his mouth and wails distantly over the dream-like chorus.

If "Running away" was the breather, then "Hawaiian air" is the finger beckon back to the dancefloor for the warm up before it all kicks off again. As with "Running away", "Hawaiian air" feels familiar; as though it could have been a song lifted from Friendly fires' first album.

After two tracks to re-assure fans of the debut that the group hadn't done a complete 180, Friendly fires hop on board to their new 80s drenched, almost R&B-ish sound and hit you around the head with it in a triple threat. First in comes "Hurting" with a chopped up sample for an melody, funky bass and once again, Ed McFarlane drugging you with his vocals. I don't know how the man does it. Every time he sings on a song I feel like I'm high and have this desire to just throw my hands up and sway from side to side with my eyes close and a grin. Would you ever think for a second that Friendly fires would dabble in a slow jam? Nope. Me neither. But they do it for the album title track "Pala". "Pala" is wonderfully exotic and utterly sexy. The porn groove guitar licks, the birds chirping away in the background, the rolling snares and Ed McFarlane's distantly reverbed croons bring 'teh sex' on the verses. But it's on the chorus where the panties drop. If you were in any doubt of this song at the start, the emergence of the 80's sex synths on the chorus will win you over. Another case of Friendly fires dabbling in something different, yet keeping within their soundscape and really coming up trumps. I just realised I mentioned sex a total of 3 times in describing this song. Did I get my point across? Nope? Listen to the damn song. "Show me lights" is big, bold, 80s, 90s and just an overall behemoth of a song in general. Big, bass booming drums. Snares which pierce the speakers, Obnoxious synths which stab at precise moments as the pre-chorus gets under way. The entire song is meticulously arranged to near perfection. "Show me lights" encompasses a variety of genre's, but when it comes down to nailing one to the song - it is R&B. Very Shalamar and Fatpack band. Very much awesome. If somebody with an ear for pop, but generally into everything had never listened to a Friendly fires song before and they were to listen to this album, I imagine "Show me lights" would be the song they'd be drawn to.

After the lavishly over-produced and glossy "Show me lights", "True love" kicks you in the gut with some funk and a spot of stankiness. Think of it as Pala's equivalent to "Lovesick" from Friendly fires' debut, and you're part way there. But only partly. Okay...not really, at all. With a speedy tempo, and bass so filthy you feel dirty for just listening to it; this song is the albums' one insistence for you to just dance like fuck. Stick a tongue down some bodies throat. Perhaps have some quick sex in some dark corner somewhere. "True love" is true filth, and it's wonderful.

Ed McFarlane and the boys are back to their tricks of composing songs which make you feel like you're floating through space. At least here they're being open with their intentions this time - with a song title like "Pull me back to earth". This is a really nice little ditty of a song which fuses a bit of Stevie Wonder, a bit of Prince and a bit of jazz. It's not as hip as some of the other songs. I could definitely imagine my parents stepping to this. But it's a fun song with a fun loving vibe.

"Live those days tonight" may be the albums opening rave number. But at the tail end of the album with "Chimes" is where it's all at. Just try and listen to this song and not dance. I dare you. Near impossible. The mysterious air and tribal overtones of the music command you to lose yourself in this song - which serves no purpose other than to have you throw arms in the air, whip your hair (if you have any to whip) and just relinquish yourself to the music. A song I've stuck on repeat many a time. Those who are into the productions of Nate "Danja" Hills and liked Duran Duran's Red carpet massacre will love this song - as it's on that whole vibe.

You would think Friendly Fires would have settled for the encore and penultimate sounding "Pull me back to Earth" to have closed the album. But instead they close Pala with "Helpless" - a trippy, swoony, love song which sounds and feels entirely otherworldly. Every time I listen to this song, I feel like I should be strapped into a silver jumpsuit floating in the middle of some nebula. It gives off that type of vibe. With the album opening so big and loud, it's rather nice that the album closes with a song which doesn't feel so much like it ends as it does just drift off.

Pala's sound is a heck of a lot bigger in scale than the group's debut. "Kiss of life" from the re-release of their debut was a small sign of things to come. As Pala follows in its footsteps of being very percussive, and very melodic with big hooks. Friendly fires sound much more primed for the charts with this album than they did with their debut. You could very much argue that despite the group being filed under Indie and Shoegaze that this album is very much pop, with some serious smatterings of R&B. They certainly have a greater selection of songs which could work as UK top 10 singles here than they did on their debut.

Despite Friendly fire testing a new sound with this album, it is still unmistakably a Friendly fires album. The group fuse dirty bass and guitar licks of the 70s, the synth chord progressions of the 80's and the big beats of the 90s. Pala has a soundscape of which many have tried on albums before, but very few have managed to nail it as well as Friendly fires have done here. Ed McFarlane's hypnotic vocals, the funk which under lies every song and the amazingly tight production from a group who are very much in control of their sound and have a clear focus of it; makes for a sonically cohesive album.

Pala is a great album. Primed for the Summer, this album comes at the perfect time. Fans of Friendly fires' debut will be chuffed with this. (I know I am). And those who have never heard any of Friendly fires' material before, will find a lot to like here. A brilliantly produced album with mass appeal.

RATING: 8.5 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Live those days tonight
■ Blue cassette ★ J's fave
■ Hurting
■ Pala
■ Show me lights
■ True love
■ Pull me back to earth
■ Chimes
■ Helpless


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