White Lies ‘Friends’ – Review

16 Oct

White lies first two albums positioned the band as a blockbuster, big budget Joy Division – or was it a cut price Interpol? The sequel to Editors? The remake of Depeche Mode? The P.G Placebo? Whatever the comparison, they did very little to carve out an identity of their own. Third album ‘Big TV’ attempted to do exactly that, and was reasonably successful, but it didn’t do enough to save the band from being dropped by their label. If I hadn’t seen fourth album ‘Friends’ in the new releases section of HMV, I wouldn’t have sought it out. I probably wouldn’t have thought about the band again, truth be told.

And that would have been my loss. With ‘Friends’ they’ve made their best album to date; an infectious collection of big room synth ballads, short on subtlety but loaded with emotion and drama. It opens with ‘Take It out on Me’, the most hook laden song on the record, which establishes the structure and motifs used repeatedly on the album; a slow burning verse that bursts in to a bright, synth heavy chorus with a simple refrain that you’ll be itching to get out of your head all day.

The main problem with prior White Lies albums was how unjustifiably seriously the band trelated them. The songs were dripping wet with tears and conveyed a super seriousness that wasn’t warranted by often ridiculously, laughably pretentious lyrics. ‘Friends’ takes itself a whole lot less seriously. At its best, it’s like they’ve opened the curtains and realised its a sunny day. ‘Morning in LA’ virtually says as much. Sadly, they don’t sustain this mood over the entire record and the album sort of spirals back to the usual, dull weather. But side A at least feels a whole lot less dour and sensible and it’s a lot better for it – smiles suit White Lies better than frowns.

Over ten similar sounding, similarly paced songs there’s no doubt White Lies numb the effect of the record’s early, buoyant appeal. ‘Hold Back Your Love’, the tropical ‘I Don’t Want to Lose It All’ and the gorgeous ‘Summer Didn’t Change a Thing’ (where the guitars seem to sparkle and shimmer like they’ve been left out in the summer sun) are such obvious highlights. The record’s final four songs are forgettable, a trend that was established on previous White Lies albums. A top heavy pop album is no great disaster but it does rather spoil things. White Lies simply play the same card one too many times. When the mood sinks and the melodies don’t stand up, the repetitive structures and Samey arrangements begin to grate, revealing holes in White Lies armour – they just don’t have any surprise tricks up their sleeve.

Such is the general disdain for White Lies, I could almost be talked in to dismissing ‘Friends’. The early reviews have being pretty universally unkind, and convincing – until you actually listen to the thing. At that point I find it hard to actively dislike the record. I understand the haters; the songs are too long, too generic and full to bursting with vague, hallmark greeting card platitudes, the kind of which usually send me running for the hills. But damn, if White Lies haven’t written a handful of soaring rock anthems. Honest to goodness tunes. Ballsy, aiming for the back seats, tunes. Good for them, I say.

6.5/10

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