Three years ago, Friendly Fires ignited dance floors and iPods across the globe with their irritatingly catchy brand of carnival-synth dance rock. There was little of the nerdiness embracing Friendly Fires when they emanated – leaving cowbells and samba drums blazing in the process – but their self-titled debut kicked all that into another tropical storm by showcasing the band’s mesmerizingly assured pop-class. It was an album that spawned festival anthems such as ‘Jump in the Pool’, ‘Skeleton Boy’ and ‘Paris’ and even a Mercury Prize nomination. What could be more antiquated in 2011 than skinny jeans-clad fella's thrusting their mid-rift all up in your face?
Pala, a hedonistic drug-fuelled utopia featured in Aldous Huxley’s final book 'Island', is a stark contrast to the modern day London. Yet instead of focusing on the ideological, the underwhelmed or even the visionary, this record actually focuses on the euphoric flux of pleasure and regression.
With a zest of innocence that fortuitously borders on the clinically absurd, Pala proves the perfect livener for those constantly on a pre-prescribed sophomore comedown. It’s enthralling to actually hear a band excited about being young and full of energy. It’s a record where arena-sized dreams cohere rather than counter the music; giving equanimity to a sun-drenched saturnalia whose freewheeling nonpartisan spirit is there for all to see.
Departing is the slight neediness that blighted the first, replaced by gushing amounts of high-octane carpeted basslines and exotically gasconaded synths that echo and simmer, transforming your mind into a kaleidoscope of colour. Opener 'Live Those Days Tonight' is an absolute stormer; piercing piano and crystal-clear synth laid over a samba-ish rhythm. Throw one more maraca or castanet in there, and, the whole thing would flop – but it doesn’t and it’s hard to remember such a genteel excess working so well anywhere since Duran Duran strutted around in the 80’s.
‘Blue Cassette’ starts out with what sounds like an all-too-familiar loop from Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time’ before blasting into an alter-dizziness that will have you rushing to the oxygen tent. It’s the simplistic straight-to-the-floor beats and wonky loops that epitomises what these three boys are all about. Ed sings, “As I hear your voice, it sets my heart on fire”, only the soberest of gentlemen and ladies won’t wish to parade in revealing leotards and budgie smugglers and drizzle
'Running Away' is a more demure and suave affair but it still momentarily beachy. With 'Hurting', the tide goes in a different direction. There are somnolent waves, the sort of soundtrack you’d hear when getting a cheeky sun-cream rub.
Even in those rare moments in which they stop moving their hips, the title track showcases frontman Ed Macfarlane’s newly-found embracing vocals.
Pala is dancier and housier than their self-titled debut, but it’s still a dance record. 'Hawaiian Air' epitomises the sheer core of the band’s success. For fans who fear the anthems have all but faded away in to the distant horizon, there is 'Show Me Lights'; one would say its Pala’s 'Jump in the Pool'.
These boy’s have already proved themselves, but this second album feels like it’s their debut. It’s big and full of more picturesque beauty than a rainforest. It is another rapturous and feel good helping of unadulterated fun. Their summoning to jet off to their party island is mighty persuasive.