They say popular culture reflects the mood of a nation: in Britain, that mood is bleak indeed, with more than two million people unemployed and the well known high street brand names of our heritage collapsing on a staggeringly frequent basis. Last week the Labour government announced that there were nearly a million teenagers not in work, training, or education, a sizable minority of the nation's youth which – if the country's uber reactionary media is to be believed – spend their time fighting their parents, the police, and each other.
Two years ago, when the cotton was seemingly much higher, the fabric of Albion's independent (sic) music scene was almost entirely made up of post brit pop solipism – bands like The Pigeon Detectives sung lazily about booze and birds, on street aggro and hedonistic self fulfillment – and how we lapped it up. To see how times have changed, just take a gander at last year's new overnight sensations Glasvegas, a quartet styled as nu-scotia Roy Orbison-alikes who, according to the venerated sage Alan McGee, splice the Jesus & Mary Chain with The Ronettes. Led by the lyrically self flagellating James Allan, their eponymous debut album is littered with random violence, loss, and despair, including possibly the most original use of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" ever, it underpinning the self-explanatory poem "Stabbed".
White Lies are trio Jack Brown (drums), Charles Cave (bass) and Harry McVeigh (guitar, vocals) and they used to be called Fear of Flying, before undertaking a career makeover which would've made Ms.Ciccone green with envy. Who knows exactly what happened behind the velvet curtain, but gone was their name and generic by numbers jangle, swapped instead for pulsing retro synths and a less than healthy obsession with mortality and the afterlife. Signed after a handful of gigs to the Fiction label (Home, you could almost have guessed – to career goth classicists The Cure), they spent most of last year cementing their next big thing tag with a trio of cork-popping obsessed singles – variously entitled "Death", "To Lose My Life" and "Unfinished Business".
So, are White Lies out to convince our children to dress like vampires, kick over headstones, or paint the walls of their room entirely black? Well even if they were, we need to get a little perspective here. Feeling alienated by society as hairs sprout in places you never had them before is after all a birthright. To paraphrase the wonderful (And dead) comedian Bill Hicks, that teenage angst thing, it's a big dollar. And if precedent be needed, it's the kind of mock rebellion that helped turn My Chemical Romance into seriously rich, if very depressed, rock stars.
Worried parents can stop listening at the door now though, for the most cursory of examinations reveals White Lies to be about as threatening to the nation's callow youth as water retention. True, To Lose My Life has morbid hubris aplenty, but just as the aforementioned Mr.Way's Black Parade alter ego had everyone old enough to shave snickering the word Queen into their sleeves, it's pasty faced contents are as lambs pimped in wolf's clothing. Anyone who remembers eighties style-over-substance despots like Ultravox, Duran Duran offshoot Arcadia or even Orchestral Manouveres in The Dark will be smiling wanly as well.
There is only one way all this would work: take a deep breath and jump right in, never pausing to consider whether the art you're making will stand any kind of proper scrutiny. It's a modus operandi that informed much of the decade that credibilty forgot and it serves White Lies impeccably. Opener "Death" therefore has all the monochrome, reverb soaked tension of an icy wake, before a cheesy piano bridge segues into a chorus of exulatant power chords, emblazoned with the prophetically widescreen refrain "This fear's gotta hold on me". You can almost hear the fireworks exploding in the background. To White Lies credit, not on this or in any other opportunity do they miss the mark; they deliver emotions here are as big and uncomplicated as mountains, and not one iota of overblown melodrama is left in their locker.
It's an exhaustingly romanticised journey though. Following the grandiose title track, "A Place To Hide" initially scratches like The Editors, before transforming into an outcast's singalong. Singer McVeigh has been frequently compared to The Teardrop Explodes' Julian Cope, but in reality their roots are wildly different; whilst Cope and comrades took root in the ironic go anywhere philosophy of post-punk, White Lies are after all about something far more manicured and approachable.
How the trio got here from the aimless clunk of Fear of Flying is open to debate, but frankly, who cares. "Unfinished Business" brims with tremelo'd nostaligia and a chorus so full of crafted pop yearning that if they replaced the words (Standard issue bunk about having blood on your hands) with a couple of love-you-babies it wouldn't sound out of place on a Girls Aloud album. "E.S.T" similarly might be about some kind of you-first suicide pact, but with a guitar line straight from The Edge's collection of riffs and a nifty byline in overly repeatable refrains, it's guaranteed to morph from your kids' iPod to yours faster than you can say monthly allowance. You could throw a dart at the lyrics of any – and I mean any – of To Lose My Life's ten episodes and hit a rich vein of pretension, but only on "From The Stars" (Excerpt: "He catches raindrops from his window, it reminds him how we fall") does the pomposity actually become a burden to enjoyment.
Essentially then White Lies, recognising that lonely boys like their indie with more than a hint of disco, have made the record which The Killers might, should Brandon ever decide on his ultimate destiny. But the dancers here are all human, and instead of the cruiseship Manilow-isms which ruined even the good stuff on Day & Age, the Londoners have created a kohl eyed pop album which will still resonate when the snow begins to melt. Internet rumour has it that the present crisis has been carefully engineered to make us appreciate our collective leaders perspicacity come the inevitable cyclical upturn; they reckon that it's a capitalist meltdown which amounts to little more than deliberate free market natural selection. But even as our careers become increasingly necrotic and the future becomes more opaque, as a species we always dance as the deck gets wetter, and after all it's worth remembering that White Lies are a politician's stock in trade.Powered by Sidelines