When their first album was released in 2008 (yes 2008. Would you believe it?) I was really in to Friendly Fires. Fast forward eleven years (yes eleven. Would you believe it?) I probably wouldn’t have taken more than a passing interest and doubt I would have listened to the latest instalment of the band’s unique brand of Pool Rock if I hadn’t taken on the job of writing about it.
So let’s deal with something very obvious about the album first of all. The legacy of a certain Mr George Michael is writ large.
No more so than on ‘Heaven Let Me In’. Specifically on the melismatic syllables of the “in” of ‘you could wait for a lifetime but I walked right i-i-n’. Friendly Fires have got form for this sort of thing and this time they’ve been on holiday to Club Tropicana and had oversized rum cocktail spilled all over them. From the opening bars of “ba-ba ba-ba ba ba-ba ba” on ‘Can’t Wait Forever’ to the Steel drums on ‘Love Like Waves’, to more “ba-ba ba”s on ‘Silhouettes’…and even more “ba ba ba ba-ba-ba”s on ‘Kiss and Rewind’, George’s influence is inescapable.
Less enjoyable influences soon distract the listener. The disco synth laser on ‘Silhouettes’ is full on cheese. Where Initial Talk just about get away with it on their 80s remixes, Friendly Fires fall just on the wrong side.
This album is at times laughably cheesy. If it were a Bond film it would be A View to a Kill.
It leaves me wondering how self-conscious the band were about it all. In a way they seem oddly shy about it. At least this has a self-limiting effect which is probably for best; they stop short of sticking in the actual aeroplane sound effects in like Spiller’s ‘Groovejet’.
Confusingly, someone else has come along half way through and spilled pill-addled room temperature Red Stripe everywhere. Cover version ‘Lack Of Love’ it’s the album’s most legitimate attempt at true electronic dance music. ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘Almost Midnight’ follow and provide exciting and nostalgic glimpses of the electro-indie explosion from which Friendly Fires emerged. Very few, if any, of their contemporaries are still doing this in any meaningfully successful way. Consider the other bands I was listening to back in 2008: New Young Pony Club, CSS, Late of the Pier, Klaxons, The Whip and the seemingly endless Kitsuné compilations – so-called ‘new rave’. Intentionally or otherwise, in ‘Inflorescent’, Friendly Fires may well have come up with belated addition to the canon of this short-lived scene.
While Wham!’s ‘Club Tropicana’ and Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’ celebrated Thatcher-era wealth and aspiration, this is the sound of the Brexit generation grasping to hold on to the good times while they still last. A final summer holiday to southern Europe. It’s the shoulder-padded (or insert more up to date Tory inspired fashion accessory here. Chinos?) apolitical counterpoint to Idles. The Michael McIntyre to your Stuart Lee. So in a sense you need to let go of your politics and pretensions a little to enjoy it. But ‘Inflorescent’ has an uncanny ability to make you like it in spite of itself. Perhaps in these times this is what we need; something just to enjoy for what it is rather than something divisive that we must either take hyper-offence by proxy to, or, to paraphrase the aforementioned Stuart Lee, “agree the fuck out of”. As they sing on ‘Love Like Waves’ “let’s make a deal to keep an open mind”.
Words by James Spearing.