Review Summary: commit to your lie.
White Lies isn’t the name of this band. There’s nothing white about it: if McVeigh tells a lie, it’s about how he murdered his best friend. If he tells a story, it’s about how someone stabbed him with a pair of scissors and left him for dead. He hasn’t got an anecdote suitable for parties, and he hasn’t got an excuse to miss one that doesn’t end with his heart being torn into five hundred lonely pieces. That’s why he’s doing this music thing: no one would congratulate him on say, a good monologue about murder, unless there were the church organs and Interpol guitar riffs to complement it. That’s pretty much how To Lose My Life
worked: McVeigh sang so many blockbuster lines it was hard to know where one lie stopped and the next began, and where “be a good girl and do what you’re told” was gloomy, “you’ve got blood on your hands / and I know it’s mine” was downright morbid. The hyperbole was justified by solid post-punk melodies, and, of course, that vintage baritone. To Lose My Life
, named in tribute to its obsession with death and sadness, wasn’t a white lie, it was the biggest lie I’ve ever heard.
For all the efforts of these lying bastards, though, it was nothing more than a solid slice of British post-punk revival, wearing its influences heart-on-sleeve, sure, but not having the stones to go as deep as Joy Division or Nick Cave would’ve. And for that, To Lose My Life
is now White Lies’ biggest problem: it didn’t have the substance to be their classic (nor the lyrics), but its bombastic nature, its hugeness, has caged them. Ritual
, two years on, feels easily eclipsed.
And it shouldn’t be, in some ways. With enough inspection, Ritual
is the work of a changed band. “Bigger Than Us” is an unexpected enough single, bubbling with the kind of guitar and synth back-and-forth of a new “Personal Jesus.” “Turn The Bells” has a tribal percussive feel that again detracts from the band’s post-punk glamour, even if for only a moment. Then there’s the symphonic “Strangers,” which feels emotionally lighter, if momentarily. And here lies the problem: these new devices are used fleetingly and McVeigh has no intention of taking them centre stage. In the song-writing department, the only thing that seems to matter for him and his band is the climax. He loves the moment where everything goes haywire on the previously spare “Bad Love,” and he enjoys knocking us out on “Bigger Than Us.” For everything else- the drenching electronics, the attempt at restraint on “Come Down”- it’s as if someone’s messed up McVeigh’s state of mind (which could easily be the case: Alan Moulder takes the helm as producer here, a man famed for his work with Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode). White Lies, for two albums now, have shown their interest in telling a certain type of story, one which begins, if musically different, with the same structural means (“In Love” is used as album’s “Death”) and uses the same technique throughout. And that’s the real issue with Ritual
: for every new idea, there’s that old White Lies style, there’s that moment where “The Power & The Glory” sets itself aflame with punchy guitar. There’s the moment we’ve come to expect. White Lies will make you hate the climax as much as they will have you wait for it.
is too much of the same: “Streetlights” and “Holy Ghost,” the angular, disparate tracks that sit central to the album, are identical in structure and seem to ignore the fact. It’s all too hard for White Lies to make something mind-blowing when every song lives through that same moment, and even harder when we already lived through all this fuss on To Lose My Life
. When we get Ritual
at its best, it’s when the bass isn’t thumping in our face, it’s when White Lies aren’t rocking out to some grand idea that’s supposed to roll us off our feet (“the only thing I’ve ever found / that’s greater than it always sounds / is love”). And those are the tracks that don’t remind us of the old White Lies: namely, “Come Home,” the perfect release from all the thunder and lightning, where the band essentially write post-punk by Phil Collins. It’s sweet and soothing, as much as Ritual
can be, and best of all, it recognises the band’s new trinkets for a whole song, rather than as half-baked ideas. At the album’s last gasp, it disrupts that old White Lies formula. It kills the lie the band have built up for so long about everything being huge and fiery. That’s kind of nice: it’s nice to see that the band can do something else, it’s nice that I can wait two years with a little hope. Other than this, Ritual
thinks it’s making big strides when it’s focus should be on the small shading. If only they told the truth earlier.