Who wrote the rule that pop acts should release albums every year or two? Whoever it is did not tell Friendly Fires, who have undergone a Stone Roses-style break from the long playing format, returning eight years on with their third album Inflorescent.
Much has changed for the band in that time, as it no doubt has for their fans and listeners. Yet anyone hearing their new music will instantly relate it to the old, recognising many things that have stayed constant.
The original Friendly Fires approach was to have a good time but to dance while you’re doing it – and, if you saw front man Ed Macfarlane dancing live, you would know this means limbs are allowed to go anywhere, hands flailing wherever you want them to. Their lack of pretence was refreshing, and remains so now.
While not threatening to change the formula too much, Inflorescent does soften the musical approach and shift the focus more to the 1980s. Heaven Let Me In and Silhouettes are as good as anything they’ve ever done, Macfarlane’s voice soaring as the textures drip with tropical heat and the beats chatter excitedly. There may be trouble ahead and beside us politically, but the trio recognise the importance of providing a good time and some necessary escapism.
These choice moments take up full time residence in the head, while the first track Can’t Wait Forever struts its stuff impressively with unexpected resemblance to Wham! and Odyssey. As it does on several tracks, a new richness in Macfarlane’s voice even suggests George Michael. He plays on the Odyssey line too, mischievously alluding to Use It Up And Wear It Out with the whispered hook “shake your body now”. It is one of several moments where Friendly Fires refuse to take themselves too seriously, lightening up and having fun with their music.
The retro influences, while ever-present, are absorbed into the music and rarely overdone. Clearly the band have been travelling too, for Brazil and the Caribbean make themselves known in music of colour and spirit.
There are few cares here, the likes of Sleeptalking and Almost Midnight enjoying blissful summer warmth; though lyrically there are a few suggestions Macfarlane has been through changes and pitfalls. “Feel like stepping outside, no more bad vibrations, wave them goodbye,” he sings in the second verse of Offline. Even here the mood is irrepressible, carrying us through the more obvious padding at the album’s core (the likes of Kiss And Rewind, Lack Of Love) to the bigger, hand raising moments.
Their devoted fans, of which there are many, will be extremely happy with Friendly Fires’ return. Their creative fires are clearly burning again, even though it feels like this album had to be exorcised for them to fully ignite in the future. The rule writer of album ethics can put their pen away for now.