Regardless of their sonic output, I have an odd attachment to White Lies. Back in September 2008 my worried parents were driving the increasingly anxious 19-year-old me up the M5. I was embarking on a journey to start university in Bristol and with early single ‘Death’ blaring into my earphones, it perfectly encapsulated how I was feeling at that very moment. “I love the dreaming when I think of/The safety in the clouds outside my window”, “Relax, yes I’m trying/But fear's got a hold on me.” It was as if every lyric had been personally written to cater for my emotional needs during that distinct migration period.
A few days later I bonded over a mutual appreciation of the band with a couple of friends, who subsequently turned out to be my two best mates over the course of the three years. Even my first ever gig in the city happened to be White Lies at Thekla. It was as if the three-piece were on an enlightened mission to punctuate my time in Bristol. For that reason, a miniscule grin approaches my face whenever I overhear a song of theirs.
Sadly the band have never quite recaptured the raw emotion and menacing atmospheric compositions To Lose My Life… brought us. Ritual was an overly polished rock record with a few too many commercially viable hooks, whilst Big TV found the band struggling to define what they were anymore. Both were perfectly OK in isolation but when put into the context of the group’s early potential, they fell short. Friends signals a slight change of style but with the London-based collective no closer to salvaging their original raw prowess of epic morbidity.
“Perhaps some of you will be aware that this record took a fair while to put together, both for intentional reasons and some less intentional,” said bassist and principal songwriter Charles Cave. The band have had to endure a near fatal car crash, news of forthcoming births and weddings since the last LP. Not only that, the majority of the writing was completed between record label changes, leading to a liberated creative process and modification in approach.
Never diluted with repetition, the band’s fourth release still carries the distressing wordplay but with a slightly more upbeat undertone. Album highlight ‘Swing’ captures this perfectly: “I took the life of soul from every dream/Until it sucked the life and soul from me,” cries Harry McVeigh as playful synthetic noises tussle for possession with his dark, mournful rhyming couplets. All ten tracks are a definitive nod to the 80s, with the likes of Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears as palpable inspirations. ‘Take It Out On Me’ even threatens to break into dancefloor territory with its melodic underbelly.
‘Hold Back Your Love’ and ‘Is My Love Enough’ plainly reference the aforementioned decade with their nods to power pop. ‘Morning in LA’'s sturdy riff helps to outline the vocal line while ‘Right Place’ is an amalgamation of all three former records. The melancholic ‘Don’t Fall’ then brings proceeding to a slow end in inspirational fashion.
Known for their entire black attire, White Lies’ new record dictates that they may have to change their aesthetic output in what is a (only slightly) more uplifting release. Friends does have its good parts but I’m still no closer to recreating the raw passion and intensity the band provided me in my formative years.