White Lies Ritual(Fiction Records) Buy it from Insound
A lot of people don’t like White Lies, and as far as I can figure it’s because, in their infinite wisdom, they perceive that a repeat of post-punk is sacrilege. Amidst this school of thought WL represent an irreverent, messy scrawl of graffiti across a once glorious epitaph. These opinions remain a solemn vigil; and a stigma that the likes of Interpol and Editors too suffer from. Post-punk was in many respects very serious, very introverted and quite literally a reaction to the previous period of riotous and anarchistic anger that was punk. The complaint with the modern day revival is that while it draws on the drama and theatre, there is no true sense of that inner turmoil and conflict behind the facade; none of the intense sincerity and pain that once surrounded the likes of the troubled Ian Curtis, the tragic anti-hero of the movement. And as Rolling Stone neatly put it WL export “more melodrama than any young group should be allotted.” But if you remove them entirely from that near overwhelming shadow and admit that it’s simply not what they’re about – that they are post-punk in sound not spirit - they make so much more sense. In my eyes they’re really an unclaimed bastard son of 80’s pop, with the heritage of bands like Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen representing no more than an unwitting cuckold that nurtured their sound. That said in making this their second record, the band have been mentioning names like Led Zeppelin as a more comparable aesthetic of some songs.
So, with some vague yardstick established – where does Ritual fit in?
Is Love begins proceedings with industrial percussion and distorted alien melodies, and the deadpan of Harry McVeigh’s vocals spans the ominous march, until dub influenced, rubbed samples take violent hold. Soon, however, any unease subsides as reassuring guitar tones echo to their mission statement: “the only thing I’ve ever found / that’s greater than it always sounds... / is love” And not only cheerful, this is unlike anything what you’ve heard before from this band, but it certainly works. Strangers follows, a song tipped as a potential single, but it’s only the vital rhythms that move this track along – the chorus has some potential but it never quite climaxes, more anaemic than anthemic, instead hanging limply across otherwise threatening guitars and synth-rock keys. By the time we reach the final track Come Down the marching drums have been reduced to a tiresome trudge and it is only thanks to the more experimental songs like Bad Love and Holy Ghost that any real interest is maintained through the mid-courses of the album.
Clearly they have placed a greater emphasis on instrumentation on this record and in particular with the interplay between the rhythms and Harry’s expansive, languid vocals. It’s filled with mechanistic rhythms and spaceship synthesizers, surrounded by walls of guitar riffs – an almost unseen element on To Lose My Life… Any subtlety discovered though is briefly but effectively snuffed out on the unleashed behemoth that is Bigger Than Us. In isolation it’s fine, but in the context of this record, it’s inappropriate, and its chorus currently lies like some vast beached whale in my mind – frustratingly immovable. There’s no doubting it’s the single of the bunch, but where the first album was all about huge choruses so immediate they near bit your ear off, here this is the only one that’s so shamelessly big.
Is that then the problem with this record, does Ritual lack… teeth? The anthemic choruses largely remain but are endlessly unsatisfying and constrained. Given the unmistakeably grittier and less atmospheric qualities of this album it was the right to attempt to temper them; I’m just not so sure they pulled it off. So it seems, with all immediacy now lost, the London trio have instead settled for some unwanted knife-edge limbo of could-do-better.18 January, 2011 - 13:21 — Joe Iliff