The UK synthpop group offers a lukewarm preview of their second studio LP.
Since the release of their Velvet EP in 2015, the UK pop quartet Fickle Friends has been one of the most prominent names in synthpop. The band has racked up millions of streams on dozens of tracks over the last six years and now boasts a UK Top 10 album. Their latest EP, Weird Years: Season 1, will precede both Season 2 and their second studio album following 2018’s You Are Someone Else. The EP is a welcome return to form, given some odd outputs from the group last year, but it doesn’t remedy the issues that have plagued the band thus far.
Fickle Friends has become known for their uptempo stylings, from the urgent “Wake Me Up” to the laid back and summery “Swim.” Across almost all of these tracks is a colorful synthpop production that rests on 80s instrumentations and the electric guitar. That core sound is once again present on Weird Years, but sees it polished to the sheen of those aforementioned Fickle Friends “classics” rather than slide backward in the direction of their middling 2020 tunes “Amateurs” and “Pretty Great.”
Lead vocalist and songwriter Natassja Shine’s inspiration cuts through on track after track, contemplating the bizarre and painful world of romance in a quarantine. Her decision to turn the refrain “What a time to be alive” into an optimistic ponder instead of a cry of desperation is a fine example of how purposefully peppy the group’s sound is.
The paramount issue is that there’s an almost rigid adherence to the pop song form that hinders their creativity and experimentation. With every song on the album clocking in the 32-second band between 2:52 and 3:24, they continue to repeat their tried and true 3-and-a-half-minute song formula to the point of monotony. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but there’s only so much more ground that this band can cover within the confines that they have created for themselves. The EP’s opening track “What a Time” is a classic Friends’ pop banger, with a wall of synths pulsing in an energetic unison, whose impact then gets dulled by the repetition of the tracks following it.
“92” quickly slows the EP to a more dramatic pace with its attempt at a 90s R&B ballad that misses the mark reached by their previous mid-tempos like “Paris.” Its refrain “keeping me waiting since ’92” is charming, but that charm alone can’t save a production that’s rather drab. The following track, “Million,” is plagued by the same dull melody as “92” and would be nothing more than a filler track save for the electric guitar shreds. However, the EP’s standout is by far the angular “IRL,” which captures their best releases’ excitement with its jagged production and rhythms to staunch the bleeding.
Weird Years: Season 1 is a truly decent pilot, but there’s little to suggest that the full project will build off of this work rather than continue almost exactly in its vein. While the EP’s individual tracks are all decent to great tunes, the group has, to their detriment, found a way to compile them in a way that makes the EP weaker than the sum of its parts.