Review Summary: The game's up.
Praise where praise is due, since what I expected
to be saying about White Lies' second album was that it was more of the same banal sad-sack post-punk they forcefed tight-jeaned British teenagers on 2009's To Lose My Life
. I've quite thankfully been forced to adopt a new strategy. In a way though, it's much, much worse, because at least with that formulaic look-how-epic-and-depressed-we-are
approach their flaws were perceived as a result of the copycat sound and uncreative songwriting, but now
, oh dear. Ritual
is somewhat different, in ways ambitious and daring, but still just as unimpressive
, leaving only one possible conclusion: White Lies simply aren't that good.
I mean, this is still obviously and unequivocally the same band that created To Lose My Life
, which is half of the problem - though constancy can be a virtue, here White Lies change shit up in an obvious attempt to sound fresh, but it's painfully obvious that the band is still the same tired 3rd or 7th dilution of Joy Division through Editors and Interpol and... you get the picture. Everything newly added to the songs is a gimmick, a cheap trick, even when it's the cut's whole infrastructure, like the tinny electronics of opener 'Is Love'. Behind it all is the same beauty-in-pain atmosphere and dejected tone, and it actually seems more naked the more clothes it dresses up in.
During lead single 'Bigger Than Us', one of the album's actually
anthemic tracks as opposed to the plethora of near-misses, the penultimate chorus dies as fast as it began to be swiftly replaced by bubbling electronics. These bubbling electronics are new to White Lies - they go in the tray marked experimentation
. But all the band, and listener, are actually doing is waiting for the last explosion, the final chorus so clearly around the corner, comprising bombastic guitars and crashing drums. Therein lies the issue; all the new ideas are just empty brainstorms and slapped-on afterthoughts designed to make tracks feel
sparkling or new but without the necessary conviction to make them organic parts of the song.
And this is the same across the board, the band paying lip service to ideas and techniques and never having the poise to pull them off - the most stark example being lyricist and vocalist Harry McVeigh. We'll leave aside the fact that he tries very hard to sound like Ian Curtis - it never did anyone else too much harm - but the lyrics on Ritual
. McVeigh smacks of a lyricist who would love to possess the ability to condense epic, dark mindsets to a single line but can't, so he does it in five instead. There are sparks of moving expression, but nothing sticks; he says the only thing I've ever found / that's greater than it always sounds / is love
is one of the better samples on offer but still one which suffers from the same nagging uncertainty in its matter-of-fact simplicity: White Lies are in no way as fucked up or genius as their idols, and it shows.
These things aside, it's impossible to dismiss Ritual
as an outright failure - there are some grandiose and stomping moments scattered throughout, but they're surrounded by the less magnanimous shots of a band that is not necessarily bad, but never as good as it thinks or wants itself to be. These really are white lies
, minor levels of artifice which peel off with a sorry degree of ease and reveal a robot going through very basic and travelled motions - a ritual.