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Reviews

Friendly Fires
Pala Isobel George , May 17th, 2011 10:58

One of the things you'll notice if you go to a Friendly Fires show, certainly in London, is that it's not full of your usual gig-going crowd. These people don't get out that much, they dance all wrong, they talk too loud. They obviously just aren't that into music. This, if nothing else, is proof of Friendly Fires' immense brilliance. To craft something so casual, so outwardly effortless, so instantly joyful that it connects with the kind of two-gig-a-year man who finds Kings Of Leon's back story a little too much like hard work, and to do it with the tools and influences that the St Albans trio do, takes mad skillz.

Those 'Hertfordshire Rapture' tags that bedeviled their 2008 debut, were, frankly, always accurate, but also frankly, never the point. What kind of joyless fuck do you have to be to contrive to dismiss something as good-naturedly euphoric, as enjoyably silly, as beautifully heartfelt as 'Paris' or 'On Board'?

Probably the kind of joyless fuck who is at gigs every night raising one eyebrow, but even if you managed it, you'll struggle to brush off Pala so easily. Sensibly, Friendly Fires took a long time considering their next move; like New Young Pony Club, they risked being sucked out with the Day-Glo backwash, but three years of writing, thinking and crafting in far-flung cottages in France, off-season beach houses in Rye, East Sussex and darkest Shoreditch have yielded an exuberant, puppyish loveable gem that laughs as it defies you not to use the word 'summer'.

Dropping the punk and indeed, most of the funk, this is purest picnic pop with a Tupperware full of hip-hop sandwiches. From the opening shunting samba rhythm of 'Live Those Days Tonight', a song that rejects elitist raver nostalgia in favour of getting it on with the here and now (Ed Macfarlane was inspired to write the lyric after reading snidey comments on old rave videos on YouTube) Pala is an album, like its frontman, that dances not only like nobody's watching, but like there's no tomorrow. It has literally NO shame, from the bright boy band chorus of 'Show Me Lights', so N'Sync you can see the choreography in your head, to the Talking Heads-meets-Take That funky pining of 'True Love'.

Always reducing things to the essentials, for all its highbrow inspirations in Aldous Huxley's novel Island, it eschews Klaxons' half-baked pontifications in favour of elegantly simple words about love, life, grabbing the moment. Similarly, for all the sophistication of its slick-as-an-oiled-Marky Mark production, this is music you could play your mum, your sister, your gran or Mark E Smith, and they'd all love it. 'Blue Cassette', for example, takes both lyrical theme and production method from an old Dictaphone tape Ed found in his garden, a sophisticated little meta-musing on memory disguised as a chiming, gloriously uninhibited hip-pop love song, Macfarlane howling “When I see your face / it sets my heart on fire” as if his heart actually IS on fire.

Pala might be fun, but it's not insubstantial. It's a clever, delightful little thing and it deserves to zing from the radio, from the windows of shops and cafes and passing taxis and festival stages all yes-I'm-going-to-say-it summer long, flapping colourfully in your face like the sexy-arsed parrot that adorns its sleeves. Music for people who don't like music? Yes, misery guts, and all the better for it. MACAW BLIMEY!

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