White Lies - Ritual
Alex Nelson 20/01/2011
White Lies' debut album, 2009's To Lose My Life... was a widely revered release both critically and commercially, shooting to the number one top spot on the week of its release. A batch of ten almost perfectly crafted songs, it found its success in its sheer simplicity; messrs Harry McVeigh, Charles Cave and Jack Lawrence-Brown lightly dusting their bass driven gloom-rock with swaddles of reverberating jangle-guitar and the occasional burst of casual keys. It was to their credit that they managed to
create such ambitiously exaggerated 80s tinged tunes from this apparently transparent template. For second album Ritual, the band have retained that ethos of epicality and gone in hell for leather, swamping every possible inch of their new record with swathes of causeless keys, going for that 'big chorus' at every available opportunity.
The record opens with 'Is Love' - White Lies paean to that most peculiar of human emotions - which presents itself to the world as a lone, brushy drum-beat slathered in echoe'd heartache and oblique vocal imagery. Seemingly out of nowhere, the track goes worryingly Madchester on us. Drums erupt haphazardly - maracas and all - before falling into that first 'big chorus'; that same sparse introduction, dressed up with backing vocals and overpowering keyboard tricks.
Most of us will be familiar now with teaser-trailer-type single 'Bigger Than Us', and it's immediately clear to see that White Lies are no friends of the old mantra of saving the best 'til last. The hands-down standout selection from the album is a formidable lead track, jumping straight into itself as bass and synthesizer coerce to form the regimented backbone of the song. Its lyrical content verging dangerously close to 'paranoid obsession' (I want you to pray/this is bigger than us) during the albums first proper 'big chorus' its peaks the album just a tad early (a mere two tracks in to be precise) but Next single 'Strangers' is something of a grower. The intro, every bit Hot Fuss era Killers and Sunshine Underground fug-bass with its almost annoyingly uncomfortable synth coda, gives way to a typically lovelorn lyrical affair. 'I pressed my ear to your chest/And heard something personal' Harry McVeigh croons in his distinctive frame, before the pre-chorus guitars stutter into life, their chuggingly syncopated rhythms holding fast below McVeigh's temperate vocal acrobatics. That it takes two-and-a-half minutes to reach a typically thumping chorus that will no doubt have punters pogoing for joy at this year's festivals is no problem; the tracks unconventional verse-verse-'big chorus' structure is stretched out over a bafflingly inexplicable length of nigh-on six minutes - a trait that is commonplace between songs on the album.
Session keyboardist Tommy Bowen really puts in the overtime to earn his keep once more on 'Peace & Quiet'; emulating Enya, Eurythmics and for the most part the uglier side of 80s inflected synth pop. He does so with a strangely off-kilter fashion, before the album's first understated chorus comes across all Klaxons; a trio of vocal ranges competing for our attention. 'Streetlights', a song so bored by its own void of feeling it has to bring it up in its lyrics with weather based metaphors ('I'm bored and I'm afraid/I'm falling like rain for you') plods along before 'Holy Ghost' regains some pace whilst rehashing a tried and tested White Lies aural cue. 'The Power And The Glory''s brazenly drum-machine lined electro-pop romp sets the listener up for album closing crawler 'Come Down', evoking the White Lies of their debut without the urgency or instancy of that record.
White Lies second album is as deliberate and precise as their first, make no mistake about that. It's just a shame that the band has tried to top the impressively grandiose scale of their debut record and, in doing so, have submersed the catchy hooks and attention grabbing rhythms in clumps of unneeded, washy keyboards. Some songs are, in laymen's terms, just not very good, lumbering along with lazy synths and no real gusto to them, while other would benefit from being stripped backed a little to their core components.
White Lies tour the UK through February. Let's hope they can retain their impressive presence in the live arena with this latest outing.