September 2008, 3 fresh faced, trendy kids from St Albans burst into the charts with an eponymous album. Calling themselves Friendly Fires they bopped around like simians on hot coals and blazed their way into the hearts of indie popping teenage girls.
The first albums strongest feature was the uplifting, high tempo, carnival pop ditties. It helped the band get nominated for various awards and they were hotly tipped for the Mercury’s, which led it to being rereleased in August 2009.
Fast forward to the present and they are back with the difficult follow up album. Entitled “Pala” after the island in the novel “Island” by Aldous Huxley, the band take inspiration from an unlikely decade to gain favour with what an audience that is unlikely to drink from said well of inspiration.
The recent trend in the cyclical world of pop music has been to dig out the shoulder pads, pastels and Ray Bans – as many artists have found success with an 80’s inspired retro revivalism. A new wave of new wavers have besieged the charts whilst established bands have dusted off the synthesizers and followed suit in order to seem brave.
But the Friendly Fires have done something braver. They could have easily stuck to the same formula that they had on the first album, see Arctic Monkeys for the past few years. Or they could have slipped into generic Indie pop mode like the Klaxons. Instead the Friendly Fires have dug up records from the 90’s.
That’s right, the grey decade where the pastels faded, the shoulder pads gathered dust and the grotesquely big shades were replaced by understated eyewear. The boys channel NSYNC and other boy bands of a similar ilk from that era. When I heard of the different direction, I almost puked. I thought I could never allow myself to listen to unashamedly putrid boy band pop with a serious face.
However the Friendly Fires manage to pull it off by keeping the energy apparent in the first album. The group made a good decision to release this one in the summer. It is an album that has the hallmarks of being the soundtrack for this summer. The band realised that on the previous album it was the up tempo carnivalesque tunes carried by the hallowing voice of Ed Macfarlane.
The album does have its weak moments such as “Helpless” which goes a bit far with the 90’s boy band revivalism. But there are fewer weak links in this one than the debut outing. “Show me Lights” and “Pull Me Back to Earth” being the stand out tracks.
Overall a great album, that uses the past for inspiration but still sounds fresh. The boys from St Albans are truly in sync.