Features | Awards

The Miley Cyrus Award For Teenage Bounciness Through Music

By Danny Roca | 19 December 2008

Friendly Fires
Friendly Fires
(XL; 2008)

Friendly Fires’ eponymous debut was a long time coming. For those fans who had bought in to the Talking Heads’ rattle and hands-in-the-air synths back in 2006 may find that the album may not have been really worth the wait. Of the eleven tracks on the album, five had already been released in some form or other which makes it hard to take Friendly Fires seriously as an album proper; in some ways it has more in common with the the Smiths’ catch-me-up compilation Hatful of Hollow (1984). Alternatively, after a two years of hype it could be seen as a nice gesture. It supplies the hits to the curious fan who may have come across the band through comparisons with other post-Rapture dancepunk bands whilst still holding back a handful of B-sides and a whole remix EP for their more ardent fans. It’s a happy compromise. Which is, in a way, a tidy four word review of the album.

Friendly Fires are yet another white flag raising occupant of the no-man’s land between the frontlines of dance and rock. But within that neverland lives endless flavours and influences to absorb. Do you take the route following the clattering groove led, grimy, frayed-edged electro of bands such as CSS, the Rapture, or even LCD Soundystem? Or do you slkip New York and Sao Paolo for Ibiza and the luscious housey textures of Cut Copy and Midnight Juggernauts? Friendly Fires do both and somehow sound not exactly like either. Yes, there are songs that do, kinda recall !!!, like the taut cowbell-heavy funk of “Lovesick,” or “In The Hospital” which sutures the melody line from “Crosseyed and Painless” to…well, the rhythm track from “Crosseyed and Painless.” But there are also incredible pupil-dilating rushes like “Paris,” which in both arrangement and lyric pinpoint that (ahem) ecstatic optimism that can only be found at 4am, sweating like a dray horse and planning a future with a complete stranger. “One day, we’re gonna live in Paris,” hollers Ed McFarlane as though we’re stuck too close to the speakers; “I promise.” And for the rest of the album Friendly Fires pinball between these two versions of themselves almost as if they are too unwilling to commit to either side.

This could make an album sound fractured or clumsy and schizophrenic (hi Beyonce!), but singer Ed McFarlane succeeds to maintain cohesion where others may fail. Bounding across the tracks like an excitable puppy, his unbridled joy and exburance flavour the songs with an adolescent energy. Whether he’s inviting us to play on “Jump In The Pool,” take a picture in “Photobooth,” or jet away on some naive adventure as on “Paris,” Ed is the best friend from your last great summer—always pushing forwards for the next thrill, the next challenge. And, when supported by his bandmates such as on the tropical multi-layered rhythm tracks and rave whistles of “Jump In the Pool,” Ed sounds nigh on invincible in his quest for FUN. It’s purely down to his likeability and ’80s-style choruses that you ignore the sometimes clunky mish-mash of disparate styles, writing the weaker songs—such as on the whiny Tears For Fears meets New Order party-spoiling “Skeleton Boy”—off to misguided exuberance.

Friendly Fires can seem like a carnival procession—vibrant, shimmering, and playful—as it’s passing but, once it stops, difficult to remember individual elements. This can leave a slightly empty feeling, even moreso considering so many of the album was available before. But this is a minor quibble with stand out tunes as jaw-droppingly infectious as “Paris” and “Jump In the Pool.” The main thing is it still sounds hella fun when it’s on and that it took nearly two years to finish off the debut indicates they have every intention to hone their songwriting rather than rush release a follow-up. It may be another long wait for a follow-up but it could just be worth it.