Monday, 17 January 2011

Album Review: White Lies - Ritual

Album: Ritual
Artist: White Lies
Singles: Bigger Than Us

White Lies have to be one of my favourite bands of all time. On this album, and their first, they make stadium-sized rock anthems, which are exactly what I love to hear, so when they opted for a slightly more electronic direction and claimed that it was bigger than the first record, you can imagine my excitement. And it does not disappoint. The album is unashamedly filled with massive (and that's an understatement) rock songs that are instantly likeable. It is incredibly rare for me to listen to an album for the first time and like every single one first time round - usually a few listens later I find I enjoy some songs when I didn't before, but here everything is instantly stunning - and it grows even more on you on repeated listens! The real darkness of the first album may be done away with a bit here, at least in the music, but it's still present in the slightly obscure, yet brilliant lyrics. So, track by track:

Is Love
Starting off proceedings with a simple electronic beat, before the haunting, deep vocals of lead singer Harry McVeigh enter the fray as synths float casually around the verse, as the drumbeat powers up for the first round of the chorus of "She says the only thing I've ever found, that's greater than it always sounds, is love". You know it's heading for somewhere massive, but nothing in the world could prepare you for the onslaught of what comes next - in short, a wonderfully catchy bass groove and incredibly powerful drums. It's pretty much danceable, in fact. At the end of the five minutes this song occupies on the album, you're left stunned by the sheer massiveness of it all, and can't quite believe that the song's already over. This song is probably my favourite on the album, even though when listening to the songs live, this one wasn't that interesting to me.

A quieter synth starts off this song, before the main riff comes to life, and then the drums smash their way in, and after a few seconds, the sheer epicness of this album shows itself off. The first chorus of "I've got a sense of urgency, I gotta make this happen, no stone unturned" sounds pretty massive itself, but then an even bigger chorus turns up a minute later - this is an adrenaline-filled belter of a song. It ends a bit suddenly, but once again, looking the track times and seeing this one is about five and a half minutes long is just unbelievable.

Bigger Than Us
Leaving us no room to breathe (in a good way), comes the hurtling first single. As the title suggests, it is absolutely huge (I think I'm spotting a pattern here!), starting off with an electronic pulse and launching into the vocals, which have improved on this record despite being pretty damn amazing on To Lose My Life... anyway. Weirdly, this is probably one of my least favourite tracks on here, as the others sort of blow it out the water. And as it throws itself into the monstrous chorus, we hear McVeigh declare "this is bigger than us". Definitely got that bit right then.

Peace And Quiet
Phew. Three enormous tracks down and finally we're treating to a slightly calmer aspect of the album. Or so White Lies would have you believe. A calm, flowing synth line floats over a quieter drumbeat than the first three tracks have shown, sounding quite ethereal and peaceful, but after a minute of build-up, it all suddenly disappears as the vocals return: "After the red ants, the blackout comes, peace and quiet..." The lyrics on this album are quite interesting. Sometimes you wonder what the hell they're talking about, but ultimately they come off very well - quite poetic, a quality rarely seen in bands these days. The chorus isn't the highlight of this song, but instead the massive instrumental ending takes centre stage. It sounds like it's going to end when it all fades out and there's only a guitar, but before long, everything comes back and leads the song to its conclusion. A calmer moment on the album, but still a big song.

Perhaps the darkest song on this album, with almost ridiculously deep vocals - so deep, in fact, that you feel McVeigh is having a bit of trouble keeping it in tune - and a very bass-heavy verse, this is probably the closest you'll get to To Lose My Life... despite having a very synth-led melody as opposed to the slightly more guitar-oriented stuff from their debut. As the chorus settles in, the sheer emotion conveyed in the vocals mixed in with the desperation described by the lyrics makes for an interesting contrast with the euphoria of the music being played to accompany it. I think towards the end, the song does overstay its welcome a little bit, which one of Ritual's sole problems - this one is my least favourite, but it is still an excellent song.

Holy Ghost
The word industrial could never have been used more appropriately than here. Definitely the heaviest thing on offer here, we're treated to an absolutely epic guitar line running over the distorted throb of the bassline, and the chorus just adds to that as synths run in the background. Again, we have a song that slightly overstays its welcome, and maybe would have benefitted from a tiny cut-down at the end (doesn't matter either way though, I still love it) as an assortment of harmonies and a sort of robotic synth brings the song to a crashing end. Very, very impressive stuff - my second favourite on the album.

Turn The Bells

Another darker song, led on by pretty much nothing but a powerful beat to back the vocals, but as the song goes on, synths come to life and join in. This song is slightly more reliant on the lyrics than others on this album, but it turns out lyricist Charles Cave is at his peak here, as he serves up some fantastic imagery - "The marketplace has nothing to sell, left alone its awnings shiver" is the opening line (not something you're going to hear opening a song every day!), and from there, it just gets better, and when mixed in with the (as always) impressive voice of Harry McVeigh, the song turns to astronomical. The chorus changes the song from a dark, slightly more minimal song into another epic, euphoric piece of music. No matter what you think about White Lies, you cannot deny they know their way round a chorus. And that has never been more apparent than on:

The Power And The Glory
The glacial synth that opens it gets instantly confined to the background as we hear out the first verse before sliding into the chorus (which gets repeated several times), and just as you think it's not going to really go much further, it turns into something slightly different - which gets quite catchy. It sounds a little quiet until about 3 minutes in when it starts to get going. The lines "I gave you back your power, I gave you back your glory" are undoubtedly going to induce a mass sing-along when it comes to play it live. This song is probably the furthest thing away from To Lose My Life... on here, as the synths own it. There's almost no hint of a guitar. Although it's still good, it sounds slightly weak until the end. I do think the live version was a bit stronger, and felt a very little smidgen of disappointment when I heard the studio version first, but it's growing rapidly on me.

Bad Love
Sort of going the opposite way to The Power And The Glory, this time we've got a lot more guitars - take a listen to the first guitar chord of the chorus. In that single second, they encapture the meaning of epic. It ultimately doesn't outshine the rest of the song, but it's still one of the many jaw-dropping moments present on this album. Along with the previous track, it's probably going to turn into one of the biggest sing-along-fests of their live shows, with the line "If I'm guilty of anything, it's loving you too much, honey, sometimes love means getting a little rough!" before concluding, "This is not bad love..." Maybe one of the album's weaker moments, but still amazing.

Come Down
Last track already? Where did the last 45 minutes go? - this was my first thought on realising it was almost over. And instead of opting for a huge, orchestral, throw-everything-you-can-at-the-song finale, the band opt for a slightly more quiet exit. That's not to say it's not powerful, as it definitely is, with dramatic chords played on the piano and a very basic drumbeat make their way to the forefront, and really serve once again to highlight the brilliance of McVeigh's vocals. As the second chorus ends, the song changes as a choir of voices sing in unison, in a slight change of pace from the rest of the song. And we are treated to a slightly calmer version of the chorus; the final words ring out ("getting out of here...") and the synth closes the song, and the album, down. At first it may seem like an anti-climactic ending, but it actually ends up being magnificent.

So, overall, good start for 2011. I'm a massive fan of bombastic, epic albums that are just so unashamedly built for stadiums and are proud of it. White Lies deliver 10 more excellent songs as they did on their first, and have improved on it several times over. Whilst there is a tiny, yet insignificant, dip in the album around the middle, with Streetlights and Holy Ghost going on for a tad too long, it does not take anything away from the enjoyment of the album. If you're not into over-the-top (I mean that in a good way), stadium-bound anthems that are on offer here, then you're probably not going to like this. But if you do like that kind of music, then this the album for you.

And so, looking at the fact that I love every single song, and personally can't really fault the album, while also recognising that I gave their debut full marks and I think this is better, I have to give White Lies their second 10/10 from me (Mind you, I am a really nice reviewer). Amazing album.

Previous albums: To Lose My Life... (10/10)

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