Watch the Dark Music young and you’ve a chance of growing out of it. A teenage goth phase is so natural Alan sodding Carr probably had one. Catch the Dark Music as you enter adulthood, however, and you risk a lifelong infection. They’ll have to bury Robert Smith in a mushroom-shaped coffin, and White Lies look equally beyond redemption. Once the Day-Glo’d pups of Fear Of Flying, one of the chippier nipper-pop bands to emerge from the underage Way Out West scene, they’re back with Interpol-black shirts, Curtis-bleak cheekbones and Damned-bombastic church organ synths. “This fear’s got a hold on me” wails Harry McVeigh in Julian Cope’s most dolorous baritone on a song entitled, rather uncompromisingly, ‘Death’ and their mothers weep. There’ll be no glitter-strewn glam period for these lost souls; the Dark Music’s got them for good.
There’s light, though, at the end of White Lies’ tunnel – scratched, by the sound of it, to a grave’s surface by a restless corpse. Their doomy debut is full of ghoulish stories of undead lovers (‘Unfinished Business’), haunted funfairs (‘Farewell To The Fairground’), millionaire breakdowns (‘From The Stars’), kidnappings gone murderously wrong (‘The Price Of Love’), manic depressives committing suicide due to fear of undergoing electrocution therapy (‘EST’) and parents dictating in their wills that they be stuffed and mounted in their daughter’s front room (um, it says here).
It’s stuffed with gore-spattered lines such as “I’ll leave my memoirs in blood on the floor”, “A desperate fear flows through my blood/That our dead love’s buried beneath the mud” and the definitive White Lies manifesto, “Everything has got to be love or death”. Lyricist Charles Cave is emerging as a classic doom-rock dreamweaver; Nick Cave meeting Edgar Allan Poe deep within Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. But in rifling through the gloomiest corners of the early-’80s for musical inspiration, their inner pop imps have lured them to the brighter side.
They’re OMD, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode, Magazine. At times, when the drum echo booms and the visions of being strapped to a massive wheel and dunked head-first in a fire-swathed pond kick in, they’re even Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys’.
As crimson of cloak and razorlike of incisor as ‘To Lose My Life’ pertains to be, it’s only ever an ominous enunciation about manslaughter away from the last Killers album. And that’s what saves White Lies from a fate worse than goth: the thumping synth-death-disco of ‘Death’ could be Iglu & Hartly, jacked up on methadone, doing Furniture’s ‘Beautiful Mind’; the title track might start as a Sisters Of Mercy scowl, but when the four-to-the-floor chorus beat kicks in it’s as Franz Ferdinand as a Glasgow pheasant shoot.
It’s ultramodern morbidity, Disco Stu wrapped in Nosferatu’s clothing, a KOKO album sneaking a crafty pre-gig pint down the Devonshire Arms. For all its glum pronouncements of murder, mortality and loss, it’s an ecstatic listen, ponderous party music. It’s Derek Acorave.
And where many supernaturally-minded bands tilt into the sort of gargling goblin’n’witchcraft parody that’d make James Herbert blush, White Lies remain stoutly human. The jilted ghosts of ‘Unfinished Business’ and the suicide pact protagonist of the title track stand as allegories for very real emotional concerns; for insecurity, desperation, lost love and reconciliation. If the boyfriend you murdered can forgive you from beyond the grave, goes White Lies’ argument, then surely there must be hope for those of us on more earthly planes.
Slash away all of the rattling chains, bloodstained dress shirts, ransom notes and restraint straps of ‘To Lose My Life’ and, in ‘A Place To Hide’ you reach its still-pulsing heart: “If I made a promise/Could I stay by your side?/Would you guarantee my safety?… If judgement day is starting tonight at least I’ll know I was right/And I’ll be laughing at the end of the world”.
The Dark Music never sounded so luminous.