Perhaps it says more about my ever-growing distance from the world of radio and anything remotely resembling mainstream music media that my awareness of White Lies lies primarily in their chart-topping debut album. The fact said debut packed enough striking singles to lure me to their slot at last year’s Live at Leeds says a fair bit and they proved to be one of the day’s unexpected highlights.
And yet for all that, the release of three subsequent albums that have gone top 10 or close over the last 8 years somehow bypassed me. And so, suddenly in my sheltered world, the appropriately-titled album number 5 lands in my inbox for review, promising a work which sees ‘the West-London trio scaling new creative heights with re-energized confidence’.
‘Five’ promises to be ‘more complex and bolder than its four predecessors and with the addition of personal and-at-times intimate lyrics of bassist and primary songwriter Charles Cave, ‘Five’ provides a confident stride forward’.
Well, no-one’s ever going to pitch an album as a retrograde step, unless they’re hailing it as a ‘return to their roots’, which is effectively an admission that a band or artist has either gone of the boil or lost the plot, not to mention half their fanbase, but credit to White Lies, they’ve remained true to their early promise and ‘Five’ does indeed marry familiarity of style with a certain progression.
From the rippling keyboards and soft synths paired with big mid0range vocal delivery on opener ‘Time to Give’, it sounds like White Lies. As does the album as a whole: urgent percussion, pulsating bass synth and crisp drapes of smooth Curesque top synths drifting down in layers on top. ‘Jo’ goes early New Order before basting into a vast swell of a chorus.
‘Kick Me’ ventures into the territory of Depeche Mode c.85/86, when they discovered kink, with lyrics that teeter into S&M against a backdrop of dense, surging synths, and thick, rolling drums.
If ‘Tokyo’ gets a bit Bastille in its anthemic buoyancy, then the ripping guitar break on ‘Denial’, which cuts through a dense wall of throbbing bass is undeniably exhilarating.
It’s very produced: I mean, massively so. All the reverbs, all the clarity. Same as it ever was. The critical critic in me, the purist, says this is to smooth, too crisp, shouts that there’s something too manufactured, too clean and clinical about White Lies. But moreover, there’s nothing that packs the edge or intensity of the first album on here: even the driving bluster that.
‘Five’ deserves to be huge, and no doubt will be. It has mass appeal and some balls and post-punk grit. And it IS good. I won’t take away from that. It’s crated. Slick. Honed. But it feels safe – which is why it will no doubt be huge.