White Lies’ impressive 2009 debut To Lose My Life rose straight to number 1 on the UK albums chart and performed well on plenty of other charts as well, although it only reached number 146 on the Billboard 200 here in the States. While it received its fair share of negative reviews, by and large most of the reviews were quite positive. More importantly, the album garnered them legions of loyal fans. Fans who supported them even when their sophomore effort, Ritual, paled by comparison. That said, I wouldn’t call Ritual a bad album. I wouldn’t even say it’s guilty of the sophomore slump. On the contrary, I think that, perhaps, they shot too far on that one and they simply weren’t quite ready to make such a leap.
The band wisely reunited with producer Ed Buller, who produced their debut, on their highly anticipated third record, Big TV. They did not attempt to recreate their debut, however. Instead, they made their most ambitious, big-sounding album yet. It could have proved disastrous, but it’s not. In fact, it’s very, very good.
It was only when I started reading reviews of the album that I learned that Big TV is a concept album, telling the story of two young lovers who move to a big city with big dreams. I hesitated to tell you that, knowing that concept albums are usually terrible and that people tend to shy away from them accordingly. But I can assure you that Big TV never gets tied down by the story. If anything, the story simply gives it the wings with which it flies.
The opening track, “Big TV,” begins with singer/guitarist Harry McVeigh simply singing along to ultra-shiny synth. “I’ve got a room downtown with a band and a big TV,” he sings just after he adds a simple riff. Once Jack Lawrence-Brown’s drums kick in, the synth turns darker and the song proves to be somewhat melancholic. Perhaps it’s because it sounds so much like various ’80’s classics — it especially makes one think of vintage Depeche Mode — but for some reason this song always fills my head with visions of the movie Less Than Zero.
Bassist Charles Cave especially shines during the first official single from the album, a slick number called “There Goes Our Love Again.” This one features glimmering synth throughout the entire track and the song shines brightly accordingly. It especially calls to mind the first two albums by The Killers and I have to say that it actually sounds more like those albums than the last album by The Killers. “I didn’t go far / I didn’t go far / I didn’t go far / and I came home,” goes the irresistible chorus. “But he said ‘there goes our love again’.” It’s only the second song and you can already feel the couple being pulled apart. It makes one start to wonder if the lyrics weren’t secretly written by Bret Easton Ellis.
“I want you to love me more than I love you / tell me if that’s something you can do,” goes the refrain of “First Time Caller,” the album’s wholly infectious third song. With shimmering strings peppered throughout and moody horns during the chorus, it’s arguably the band’s most grandiose song to date and it’s also nothing short of marvelous. It’s like the band that made their debut covering Joy Division while really high on cocaine.
Big TV continues to be heavily influenced by the ’80’s during the jittery “Mother Tongue” — coming down from that cocaine, perhaps — and the haunting “Getting Even.” The former evokes Tears For Fears while the later is clearly informed by Rio-era Duran Duran.
“I’ve never been too good at change,” McVeigh wails during “Change” and the tension — and distance — between the couple of the narrative is palpable. Even if you’re not following the storyline, it’s impossible to listen to this one and not feel yourself sinking into a pit of despair. Suffice to say it’s not a fun or inspiring song to listen to, but it’s more than successfully emotive.
Following “Space ii,” the album’s second instrumental interlude, “Tricky To Love” doesn’t quite pack the monstrous hooks or emotional wallop of the rest of the album, but it’s not a bad song per say — it’s just that the rest of the album consists of perfect 10’s and it’s only a 7.5.
The album goes out with a bang with the rewarding, up-tempo “Goldmine,” which may or may not resolve the album’s love story. I suppose it all depends on how you interpret it. Personally, I’m still undecided. But I am quite certain that Big TV is White Lies’ best album so far and that it’s a modern masterpiece. It’s also the best ’80’s inspired album of the past decade.