Throughout White Lies’ 2009 debut album To Lose My Life… was a palpable sadness that resonated with those who enjoy that brand of gothic grandeur. These are the same kind of folks that connect with bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and the Smiths. For so long, I have fought against the following argument friends: “Smiths songs make you want to slit your wrists.” Not so, if you can relate with the bleaker side of life and sympathize with such sentiment. But most people don’t identify with such a non-escapist and sometimes academic view of the world and would prefer a more commercial, fun record (In other words, the kind that buy Maroon 5, Rihanna, and Katy Perry albums and think Lady Gaga is, like, the coolest person ever).
The best parts of the London band’s debut album were the most danceable (“Death,” for example), which probably sounds completely counterintuitive and not what most people envision at all of the gothy, post-punk genre. If you ever get the chance to watch the hordes of regulars at the Mousetrap Britpop night here in Washington, you’ll understand. Morrissey famously once sang in the Smiths song “Unlovable,” “I wear black on the outside / ‘cos black is how I feel on the inside,” and in our black clothes, boots, and eyeliner, this is our dance music.
Ritual, White Lies‘s second album, is comprised of similar building blocks used to make To Lose My Life… The high – and potentially the most crowd-pleasing – points of the album are the less dark, more synthy and more inspiring moments. “Is Love,” the album’s opener, starts in the shadows with Harry McVeigh’s usually unemotional intonations, but the track is lifted up into seemingly happier, almost power pop territory thanks to synths. “The Power and the Glory” is White Lies pop trapped in the ’80s.
“Bigger Than Us,” the first single to be released from the album, is brisk in tempo and has a sweeping chorus that fans of White Lies have come to expect from the band that brought us previous singles “Farewell to the Fairground” and “To Lose My Life.” Best track on the album, hands down. First time I heard it on BBC Radio, I could feel the tears welling up: “and I feel like I’m breaking up, but I wanted to stay / headlights on the hillside, don’t take me this way / I don’t want you to hold me, I want you to pray / this is bigger than us.” Epic. (Actually, thinking more about the lyrics, the song might be a nod to the Smiths‘ “This Charming Man” or “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”)
The buzzing guitars of “Holy Ghost” are sexy and the tune’s verses sound like a homage to the Police’s “Roxanne.” But the chorus is bizarre: “maybe someday I can move like you / maybe someday I can scream like you / I’m not looking for a holy ghost.” I would love to get inside the brain of the band’s bassist and chief lyricist Charles Cave one day. Also unique is “Peace and Quiet,” with a double-tracked chorus almost approaching gospel (“I feel this great pressure coming down on me / and the tide of my bliss, pulling at your sympathy“), new age synths, and an atmospheric yet chill vibe reminiscent of Broken Bells’ debut last year. Not what I would have expected from White Lies at all.
The punishing rhythm of “Turn the Bells” is hypnotic, but there’s no denying it, it’s dark. “Streetlights” is custom made for the terminally depressed, it’s a desperate cry to the world: “hold tight for heartbreak / buckle up for loneliness / right time to get away / where I’m going, I couldn’t care.” Tough stuff. “Strangers” contains the refrain “there’s nothing stranger than to love someone,” the protagonist anxiously trying to love a woman who is emotionally unavailable and not returning his deepest affections. You might not want to listen to this if you’re going through a rough patch in a relationship.
But these are the inevitable, more sinister, more difficult to swallow moments from Ritual. They represent the most comfortable territory for White Lies: writing songs that express the pain and sorrow of everyday situations. That said, this album is really for people who can see past the initial gray sheen of depression the band uses to paint the surface of their songs; under the surface, there are always profound feelings. There are deep emotions in every track, examined and intellectualized, ready to be taken into the hearts of people who can appreciate those emotions.
Ritual by White Lies will be released in America on January 18 on Geffen Records.
01. Is Love
03. Bigger Than Us
04. Peace and Quiet
06. Holy Ghost
07. Turn the Bells
08. The Power and the Glory
09. Bad Love
10. Come Down
White Lies: website | myspace | @ Black Cat | @ Lollapalooza Day 1 | White Lies to Tour North America, Support Kings of Leon | Sophomore Album from White Lies Due in January 2011 | White Lies – “Bigger Than Us”