Is 4 years a long time to wait for the follow up to a debut album? In some ways 2018 feels like yesterday, but in others Fickle Friends’ first record You Are Someone Else feels like it came out decades ago. Maybe it’s because there have been teases for this album for years now, first single ‘Pretty Great’ was released in January of 2020, or maybe it’s because we had 2 EPs of tunes throughout 2021 a handful of which also appear on this album. Either way it definitely feels like this album has been bubbling away for a very long time.
4 years would have been a long time to wait for a retread of their debut record too and to its credit Are We Gonna Be Alright? kicks off with two songs that really push Fickle Friends in a new direction. I’m a really big fan of the driving guitar hook on ‘Not Okay’, which seems designed to bounce along to at a live gig, while opener ‘Love You To Death’ has a natural and steady build before a thrilling final few seconds. These songs flirt with a heavier sound, if you can call pop music this bubbly and peppy ‘heavy’, but it suits them, like we could be in for a more danceable and bass led record.
That doesn’t really pan out though, and as ‘Write Me A Song’ starts it feels like the direction the band are actually aiming for is more pop rock than I had expected. The first few listens I didn’t mind these tracks, ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ achieves a similar vibe, but the more I’d listen to the album the less the faux rock aesthetic worked for me. It’s sort of what would have happened if Paramore had started in their recent pop guise and worked backwards. The intent is there, but the guitars feel muted and static, and the energy just isn’t there like it has been in some of the other genuinely great pop rock we’ve seen recently.
Thankfully these are blips on what would otherwise be another set of bright and punchy pop songs, ‘Alone’ and ‘Glow’ clear highlights for me, both full of satisfying catchy riffs and production littered with hand claps and rhythmic drums. Fickle Friends are at their best when the drums are really deep in the mix, they feel like a band where the rhythm is really key to their appeal, danceable and with a satisfying groove, the pop on this record shines brightest when the drums are clear and joyous.
The album really finds its feet with tracks like this, where previous songs ‘IRL’ and ‘Won’t Hurt Myself’ settle in nicely alongside the new stuff. I’d usually balk at singles carrying over for years into an album that seems to have been made completely separately, but ‘Pretty Great’ is undeniably the catchiest and most instantly enjoyable record of the bands career so it’s hard to be mad this time.
Lyrically these songs work best at their most plainly spoken on relationships and heartbreak. There’s enough of a contrast between lead singer Natassja’s nonchalant delivery and the to the point lyrics that this really works in the style of indie-pop music they are going for. The problem for me is that there’s not enough depth or true personality on some of the songs here, ‘Listen’ or ‘Load On Your Mind’ for instance to truly shine next to some other bands who are releasing very similar music to this.
The likes of Pale Waves, The 1975 and especially MUNA are instant comparisons across the album and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why but there’s a spark missing here that the band just haven’t quite found yet.
Closer ‘Are We Gonna Be Alright?’ feels like a true moment of self reflection and honesty which is a welcome change of pace from the rest, making me hopeful more than anything that this is a band who will get there soon. The music is here, it’s a very fun album too, the ‘sound’ as a band is here outside of a few rockier misfires, but the spark just hasn’t set them alight yet. It will do, but hopefully sooner than 4 years from now.
Words by Sam Atkins