So what happens when things start to become a bit peachy? The royalties come rolling in, your singer starts dating a celebrity boy/girlfriend and you pay off your mortgage?
Do you still continue to write about the dark feelings and circumstances that initially gave you fame and fortune?
Or do you evolve and explore themes of your newfound happiness/comfort instead hoping that your fans follow you in a lemming-like fashion?
One of the main reasons that the debut WHITE LIES album ‘To Lose My Life’ drew significant attention was its overt obsession with death; eight of the ten tracks featured the words “death”, “dead”, “die”, “died” or “deceased” in their lyrics and the monolithic monochromatic album artwork added to the overall effect.
Musically, the band have always worn their influences on their sleeves, their debut was a highly (Flood) produced mixture of ULTRAVOX synths and U2 bombast with huge catchy hooks and the baritone Julian Cope-ish vocal of Harry McVeigh sitting majestically on top. Second album ‘Ritual’ saw a honing of the sound, ‘Big TV’ ramped up the anthemic nature of the band’s music and now after a gap of three years comes ‘Friends’.
Lead-off single ‘Take It Out On Me’ is undeniably catchy and features a huge earworm of a chorus melody. If it wasn’t for the guitar and live drums on the track, it could quite conceivably be an OMD song from ‘History of Modern’ or ‘English Electric’.
‘Morning in LA’ starts like another late period OMD track with a hooky synth refrain before a Midge Ure style guitar joins the mix. Again this is another ultra-melodic song, but the extended length of the track means towards the end the chorus vocal feels like it’s outstayed its welcome by a minute or so. ‘Hold Back Your Love’ has a cool live bass and synth interplay with an ORBITAL-esque string sequence; McVeigh’s big vocal range is utilised well here, but lyrically it all feels a bit flat and emotionally disconnected.
There’s also very little guitar and has the kind of dynamic that made ‘Death’ from their debut such a killer (sorry) song.
‘Summer Didn’t Change A Thing’ is a standout track if only for the fact that it throws in some unpredictable musical and dynamic shifts over its four minute running time. Like other songs on the album, the chorus again outstays its welcome somewhat. By the time you get half way through the album, proceedings start to flag, the formulaic song structuring and synth sounds become very predictable and despite the immaculate production, the songs eventually roll into one.
By the time you’ve sat through ten tracks of lyrics mainly about love, you even start to morbidly wish for a ditty about a suicide pact just to hark back to the band’s imperial phase.
If you are new to the band, there is a lot to be enjoyed here, loads of synth parts and melodic songs, but with ‘To Lose My Life’ now seeming like a long distant memory, ‘Friends’ is the sound of a band that is starting to scrabble around for its identity and failing.
For many fans, is this where the friendship with WHITE LIES possibly ends…?
‘Friends’ is released by BMG in the usual formats
Text by Paul Boddy
17th October 2016