Friendly Fires quit just as it seemed the pop zeitgeist was tilting in their direction. They were formed in St Albans in the long hangover of landfill indie, where jangly guitars and poorly inserted keyboard hooks (and, lest we forget, nu-rave) abounded. By the release of their sophomore album Pala the three-piece had dovetailed into what was essentially Balearic pop. Their giddy, skittish beats and melodic piano tone became the sound of the summer to a whole generation of teens through the salad days of 2011.
It hasn’t been all radio silence from them but nothing has landed in the same way, despite a series of collaborations and side projects. Inflorescent can therefore be seen as something of a comeback, and whilst the sound of the mainstream has long since moved on, the Fires still have plenty to contribute.
Their third album is no tightly controlled mood-piece, nor a calculated move towards the mainstream. What it is, is a series of hooks fired out machine-gun like, with some sticking and some not. Most often these come in the form of staccato melodies trilled out on synth or, gamely, via the limber voice of singer Ed Macfarlane. He isn’t above a ‘ba-da-ba-da-ba’ here and there, as seen on opener ‘Can’t Wait Forever’, and given the grim throes of current pop, thank god for that.
The less said about the featherweight funk of ‘Silhouettes’ the better. Ditto ‘Kiss And Rewind’. The song that hews closest to past victories is ‘Love Like Waves’, and while it borrows the cadence of ‘Kiss of Life’, it’s a great tune, and the only one here where the band dynamic is present. Elsewhere, this is decidedly a collection of house songs – defined by sunny piano sounds, production sheen and airy melodies that slowly drift into focus.
There are more than a few moments of grimace-inducing cheese; peep Macfarlane’s attempt at loverman croon on ‘Can’t Wait Forever’ (“Shake your body now” he whispers in breathy tones), and while some of it is in good fun and some of it is definitely self-aware, there was a time when Friendly Fires could get by on songwriting without the wink.
However a strong suite of songs at the close ultimately dispels any ill-will. A cover of deep-house staple ‘Lack Of Love’ throbs on a squiggly bass line and the patter of bongos, while ‘Cry Wolf’ percolates around a bittersweet chorus and ‘Run The Wild Flowers’ provides a celebratory crescendo. It’s enough to make you long for 2008.