White Lies To Lose My Life...(Fiction / Polydor) Buy it from Insound
As one of the first über-hyped British releases of 2009, there will invariably be three standard responses to White Lies' début album, To Lose My Life:
1) Believe the hype! The best British guitar band since, er, Bloc Party.
2) Screw the hype: first Editors, now this. What have we done to deserve such a barrage of mediocrity?
3) A boring, needlessly wordy essay on that, after balancing the pros and cons, concludes 'it's kind of OK'.
I'm a number three kind of guy these days – although I left my thesaurus at home today – which means I'm going to try to approach To Lose My Life in a rational manner that befits a writer of my advancing years. While the knee-jerk reaction option of #2 is an attractive choice – it's easy, not to mention surprisingly fun, to shoot a band down for everything it's not – such a one-sided approach does no one any favours. And it doesn't exactly leave much room for a U-turn if the band in question shapes up to deliver a strong second album. The first choice is equally dumb. I mean Bloc Party? Don't get me started...
To Lose My Life begins harmlessly enough with recent single, Death. A Cure-esque synthesiser bubbles away deep in the mix, while a heavily compressed bass riff ushers in the equally booming voice of Harry McVeigh (who obviously hasn't been paying attention to the recent Norwich Union/Aviva ad campaign). Comparisons to Curtis/Cope/Banks/McCulloch are inevitable: McVeigh just has one of those voices. Critics who decide to pan White Lies merely because they aren't Joy Division/The Teardrop Explodes etc. will target McVeigh's vocal stylings with all the enthusiasm of bulimic at a buffet. Personally, I just don't see how familiarity is a problem in this context. It could be far worse: he could have adopted a faux-American whine. The song itself, well, it's not bad – a respectable mid-tempo opener with a rousing coda of "yes, this fear's got a hold on me" set to crunching stadium guitars. Not exactly epic, but it's solid.
Title track To Lose My Life opens with crisp percussion and ominous bassline, before exploding into an enormous chorus which, given the correct exposure (e.g. an iTunes ad), could shift a hundred thousand copies of To Lose My Life single-handedly. It's so immediately thrilling that I'm willing to overlook a nagging feeling of insincerity that emerges with repeat listens. Could White Lies be painting gloomy-indie-rock-by-numbers for the masses here? Perhaps, but it's still better than Editors.
Unfinished Business is undoubtedly the best tune here. Even though the band knows it has an awesome hook up its sleeve, there's a real sense of patience; To Lose My Life is all to keen to spit out its mammoth chorus early on, but this track builds slowly and surely, creating tension and atmosphere in the process. To Lose My Life doesn't get any better than this; unfortunately for White Lies, however, some parts of the record do manage to get significantly worse.
From The Stars sounds rushed; a definite filler. The clumsy lyrics aim for a literate brand of poignancy but wind up sounding utterly banal (“He catches raindrops from his window, it reminds him how we fall / From the stars back to our cities, where we've never felt so small”). The shuffling drums are nice, but the string section is a huge misstep – the kind of misguided choice only a young band with major label backing seems to make. Elsewhere, Farewell to Fairground throws up an awful metaphor for escaping the tedium of a dreary home-town: “farewell to the fairground / these rides aren't working any more”. Even Chris Martin would have tossed that one aside.
As To Lose My Life draws to a close, its epic aspirations start to become irritating. The synth-drenched Nothing To Give is so overwrought it's almost embarrassing and, together with the forgettable final track The Price Of Love, provides the album with a disappointedly flaccid climax.
Overall, like so many début albums, To Lose My Life is a mixed affair. It's not quite bad enough to be dubbed an honest failure, but it's flaws are too debilitating for me to recommend blowing a tenner on a copy. Mark them down as one to watch by all means, but anything bolder than that would be pure hyperbole.8 January, 2009 - 20:42 — David Coleman