Recorded in Brussels earlier this year with Ed Buller back on production duties, White Lies’ third album ‘BIG TV’ is released on 12 August and, according to singer Harry McVeigh, “Anyone that was into us from the start and has seen us develop is going to really bloody love this album.” Well well well. Let’s see how it shapes up with some first impressions.
The title track emerges from Kraftwerkian burbles and rising synths with a clang of guitar, followed by full electro throbs and slimline beats. You get the picture. There’s something House Of Love about that clang if we’re looking for 80s references – and White Lies love a bit of that – although the echoing chords later are pure Edge. Harry McVeigh is feeling disaffected in the big city: “I’ve got a room downtown with a bed and a big TV… It’s a beautiful view but you know they’re gonna set it on fire/When they feel like something new“.
This is busier, bustlier, wobbly in the synth department with submerged tribal drums, and somewhere in the middle McVeigh is at his grand, authoritative best. “Forgive my heart,” he begs before launching into an easy, earworm chorus. “I didn’t go far/I didn’t go far/I didn’t go far/And I came home“. Clear and concise, and the first single.
You can tell this is a big, conceptual third album because it has a couple of interludes. For a few alarming seconds you’d swear this one’s going to become Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’ before an even more disquieting electric piano comes in and threatens to evolve into ‘The Greatest Love Of All’. A creepier minor chord underneath averts the terror.
Like Gary Numan trying to make a Coldplay track, it says here in these notes, or The Killers with Leonard Cohen on the mic. Gruesome portents, sure, but ‘First Time Caller’ gets away scot-free because of its unshakeable chorus hook – “She said I was a first time caller/But a long time listener” – and stabbing, electric strings. A close call but these are the risks you need to take in search of a hit – and this sounds like one.
This’ll swing your hips. “Shot through the veins of an angel,” sings McVeigh mysteriously as Charles Cave pulls on his bass like an old-school funkateer before another sunburst chorus explodes out of a dour verse. There’s absolutely nothing subtle about White Lies’ dynamics but they’re consistently digging a bit of beauty out of this grandiose noise.
While we’re tallying up nods to the 80s, stick Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’ in the ledger. For a more recent touchstone, there’s a Musey throb but this emotive effort – “Love, I’m trying so hard to be free/Lonely and free and out of love – belongs in a coming-of-age movie, specifically the scene where our hero’s had a big row with his dad and is running down a twilit street, punching walls.
This one’s slow, beatless, with vast, reverbed piano and a regretful but philosophical McVeigh – “If you need to find yourself in the arms of someone else/I wish you on your way“. It flirts with cliché (“This is only the beginning/Although it feels just like the end“), but just about manages to sound powerful with its cathedral-like acoustics and brass chorus leading it away.
Add Simple Minds to the 80s chargesheet. Pre-US breakthrough Simple Minds when they were still doing diverting things with synths just as their facility with a hook was coming together. ‘Be Your Man’ chimes and soars – all those wonderful, rousing things – and boasts a ridiculously great chorus that goes something like, “I’ll be your man/Free on an open ride/Into the maple glow/Sail on the dusk we pull our love in tow“. Yeah, or something. You could call it a Keane chorus if that wasn’t taken the wrong way. It’s like a Keane chorus. Don’t take that the wrong way.
‘Rio’ is back, along with that soupy piano – but it all ends with a horror-movie chord so that’s OK.
“My love changes with the weather/And my heart/Red imitation leather” – a good line to get us underway as Cave’s fluid bass oozes around shafts-of-light synth before McVeigh’s guitar goes all Van Halen (really) for the second verse. “Tricky” is a criminally underused word in pop (maybe Run-D.M.C. gave it its definitive airing), but otherwise this is a little po-faced to really connect. More po-faced than normal.
Careful electric piano plays in the corner of a church. Slow, disjointed drums join the ‘fun’ before a huge chorus pleads, “Wait for me/Take this weight off from me,” and the song buckles under its importance. It’s called ‘Heaven Can Wait’ after all; these aren’t small themes. As earnest as this is, its chorus will still get its claws into your brain.
It’s been a while, but the pace is back up again, and the guitar is riffing chunkily too. McVeigh appears to be claiming, “I saw her blue eye candid in the headlight/I saw her white smile digging in the goldmine,” and granted, you’d probably remember if you saw all that. The album closer, this is a big pop moment like all the best songs on ‘BIG TV’, kind of Killers-like as it builds in intensity over hollering voices and a great big pissing contest between synth and guitar. It was never going to end with a whimper.