Album Review: White Lies – Friends

By on Thursday, 20th October 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

White Lies Friends album coverThe year I joined TGTF as its USA Editor, White Lies were on the longlist of the BBC Sound of 2009. So I feel a special kind of kinship towards the West London band. I like White Lies. I really do. I’ve seen them three times, and they’re a great live band. There’s no denying they’re a fantastic singles band: rattle off ‘To Lose My Life’, ‘Farewell to the Fairground’, ‘Bigger Than Us’, ‘There Goes Our Love Again’, all well received by fans and part of their ever enlarging oeuvre. But this is where their problems stem from. Whether purposeful or merely coincidence, they’re a band that has offered up three albums – 2009’s ‘To Lose My Life…’, 2011’s ‘Ritual’ and 2013’s ‘Big TV’ – with the highest of highs, only to leave you feeling let down with the rest of the album sounding hohum.

Unfortunately, this is the fate of their latest, ‘Friends’, released earlier this month on Fiction Records. The previously released single ‘Take It Out on Me’ begins the album at a heady height that the album never reaches again in its other nine tracks. What’s more, they’ve chosen to go in a disco direction on several songs on the LP, to varying degrees of success. Since their earlier beginnings toying with the grim fatalistic on ‘Death’ and ‘Unfinished Business’, they’ve been pegged as miserabilists, so the introduction of overly bright synths and beats seems like a massive disconnect.

As an album that primary songwriter and bassist Charles Cave has described as chronicling the spectre of getting older, of being pulled away from the mates you once felt so close to. Despite having an upbeat backbeat thanks to drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown, album track 2 ‘Morning in LA’, comes across clunky. The subject matter of ringing up a friend in Shanghai and finding it sad that it’s already morning in California may be of utmost importance to them. But as an American-based editor who corresponds daily with UK and Australian contacts out of necessity, it’s hard to be sympathetic.

‘Swing’ and ‘Come On’ are so lyrically uninspiring, as you’re listening to the album from front to back, your attention will dip way low once you’ve past ‘Summer Didn’t Change a Thing’, where Cave hides unrequited love behind a grandly anthemic façade. This song is so classic White Lies, you wonder why they can’t seem to repeat or improve on their basic winning formulas for a whole album. Do they get fidgety?

There are some great moments on ‘Friends’ that I would be remiss in not mentioning. ‘Don’t Want It Feel It All’ details the struggle of loving an unstable depressive, or possibly from the perspective of that depressive and the confusion within while trying to hold on to a relationship. It’s a brave move lyrically after the weirdness of ‘80s throwback track ‘Hold Back Your Love’ in which frontman Harry McVeigh oddly begs the object of his affection to deny love to him because he “wanna see what I feel without / every feeling is streaming out”. The excessively gay keys that accompany McVeigh’s yearning vocal are a strange juxtaposition initially, but somehow it works. The buzzing synths and big beats frame ‘Is My Love Enough?’, a rhetorical question posed by a partner to a lover, insisting that leaving is the kindest way forward, a disco version of Keane’s ‘Can’t Stop Now’.

‘Friends’ isn’t a bad album per se, but it does give one pause when considering it against the rest of White Lies’ catalogue. Charles Cave deserves props for confronting the march of time and what it does to relationships, but a disco beat may not have been the best choice to complement his often weighty topics.

6/10

‘Friends’, the fourth album from White Lies, is out now on Fiction Records. The band are in the middle of a European tour, before they return to the UK for a domestic tour beginning on the 22nd of November at London Shepherds Bush Empire. To see all of White Lies’ scheduled dates for the rest of 2016, go here. To read more of our extensive coverage here on TGTF on the West London trio, follow this link.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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