ALBUM REVIEW: White Lies – ‘Five’

Building a career in any profession takes time, but longevity is a different beast. Established in London in 2007 as a satisfying mix of cavernous gloom-pop and chant-worthy grandiosity White Lies nailed their specificity and honed it well, earning debut LP To Lose My Life a number one spot upon its release in the UK. Now a decade on the band is set to unveil their fifth studio album on 1st February 2019.

Arguably White Lies’ most adventurous (and challenging) material yet Five captures the essence of a band still enamoured with the art of songcraft, willing to investigate new routes of creativity and possibly go as far as to change mindsets.

Five opens with Time to Give, a foray of seven-plus minutes into the expansive—its rather ambitious structure feeds a glutton of panoramic synth progressions and opulent instrumental interludes, and ties everything together with engaging discourse (similarly the method of delivery is unexpected triggering an imposing verbose style but conserving elegance of purpose). It is a human story that travels between pessimism, relational dynamics, dependency, and despondency. Unequivocally a fine line to tread but frankly they avoid any possible pitfalls of over-played flamboyance, or tedious storytelling, maybe because of that very extravagance they impose. It was strong as the starting point for this album campaign and an even better proposition as opening gambit. 

Changing tactic on Never Alone, a well-oiled portrayal of White Lies’ universal appeal is enacted: a driving rhythm section tightened by the guiding light of Harry McVeigh’s strident, emotive baritone is shot to the stars with fluorescent sonic colour. Lyrically too, it pulls many punches, narrating a reflection on personal character verses the online facade: “I really tried to be good, but goodness won’t come easy to me / You’re too good in your old ways, in others you’re evil like me.” Depth, darkness, and dexterity—an early highlight.

Without an obvious theme to interlock the entities of inspiration throughout the album, continuity is found by way of the band’s creative freedoms. Prompted by independence, artistic control, and their own cultivated passion to make ‘a great record,’ the album sessions spurred evolution: “It’s confident, this record. A lot of the songs have pushed our sound in a new direction and we had confidence and belief in the songs,” says McVeigh. While certain signature tropes are still referenced the overriding opinion is that Five is a record that could’ve only been born of this time.

Notable moments of ingenuity weave in contained bursts of exceptional spirit: Finish Line (the band’s first ensemble to feature acoustic guitar—a soft sway but cinematically tuned), Kick Me (a melodic odyssey channelling Pink Floyd’s far-scoping vision and Alan Parsons Project’s sweeping spectacle), Jo? (possibly the most hyperactive tempo of White Lies’ entire catalogue—a wild, wall-of-sound joyride) and Fire and Wings (Five‘s apocalyptic doom-ridden finale).

Since Big TV there has been a gradual lean towards a brighter sound with moments on both the third and fourth record tapping into an extroverted tenacity, not enough to lose the beloved essence of White Lies or crossover into the gentrified lane but a flash of brilliance under shards of murk. Exploring the pop angle more broadly on FiveTokyo succinctly teams glaring bombast with respectable credibility, it’s a heavy shot of White Lies’ pop stamina stimulating every inch of the band’s prowess: compositional build and release, overarching choruses, compelling hooks and emotional core. Charles Cave’s bass work is exemplary loading the track with tight rhythmic patterns and a lift of funk, while Jack Lawrence-Brown’s percussive outline is the beat that keeps the whole thing afloat. Then, Harry McVeigh’s vocal exuberance is the bounce that lightens the load until the bridge impacts with a section of secluded choral rawness, shaped around an eerie Enya-esque topline.

Confident in what they’ve built across the record the hardly hesitant statement of Fire and Wings brings together every startling spark of invention Five relishes, instigates, and so potently articulates. The group has ripped open a wide lens channel to a new gnarly representation—and we like it. We like it a lot.

White Lies’ Five is due for release on Friday 1st February – various formats and bundles can be pre-ordered here.

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Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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