In 2007, White Lies came out of London with a bombastic indie sound and the widescreen voice of a youthful Julian Cope. Two years later their first album To Lose My Life… was at number one in the UK, thanks to the aforementioned endearing qualities and its polished yet dark, urban feel (the drums sounding like they’re in a quarry on ‘A Place To Hide’ for example). There’s also Harry McVeigh’s cinematic lyrics – all storms, air attacks, kidnappings and death.
Exactly two years later Ritual is another 10 track album that on first listen builds on roughly the same structure of heavy, purposeful rhythm to compliment the vocals. Upon repeated listens, elements that could be considered part of a departure appear. Falsetto harmonies, dance sensibilities and half way through the building opener ‘Is Love’, a funk beat, a slightly clumsy segue which bears no relation to the rest of the album. There is some sense that here’s a band pushing and playing with their sound a bit but ultimately these elements seem merely tokenistic, taking away from the original blueprint.
There seems to be a lot more influence of synth sounds, whether its string sounds or adding some texture to the pulse as in the massively enjoyable ‘Bigger Than Us’, a classic White Lies moment (the songs that feel closer to the first album are often the most successful). McVeigh, however, seems to have more fun in writing his individual lines, than in constructing stories as he did many times on the first album. The big sound and “lights on the hillside” lyrics are what the band do best, but it’s the token lines “apologies on your fingernails, love flickered in the city of lights” that are a little WTF?
After many listens, very few songs stand out as memorable. Many seem to be washy attempts, never hooking anything in your ears (you’ll hardly remember you heard ‘Streetlights’ once, never mind that you actually heard it about 20 times). Whether you liked them or not, the stories and scenes of the first album are sorely lacking and the Blade Runner cityscape synth sounds now present have already been done by Editors on their last album. These elements do come together somewhat in ‘Turn The Bells’ and McVeigh turns a good lyric but, again, you’ve heard this sound before. Of his writing, one single thing chips away the more you hear the album and that is how many similes appear. Almost every single song has a vast array; “scarlet as a papercut”, “like intermittent radio waves”, “I lay like a compass”. It gets a bit much and the more you think about them, the more you find.
There are without question some fine moments here (most at the beginning), but they are interrupted by moments of blandness that make it much less enjoyable as a full album than To Lose My Life. The progression made may be forgivable for guys in their forties and upwards (U2 perhaps) but not for this young London band now slipping lazily away from the dark bedrock of sound and ideas they initially won us over with.
This curious mini-film is actually a promo for the album featuring four of its songs, the band, a nuclear power station and as many gangster/heist cliches as you’ll see in 10 minutes. Directed by Colin O’Toole