London post-punk band White Lies have never done anything small. Upon transitioning from their old band Fear of Flying to new, more epic material in 2007, this UK three piece has only pushed for bigger and better as time has gone on. Their 2009 debut To Lose My Life… showcased their unique take on the post-punk revival seen similarly in bands like Editors. White Lies’ sound is an accessible and engagingly operatic experience, with massive driving post-punk textures mixed with a smattering of epic new wave groove a la Depeche Mode. Some of the singles off of 2011’s Ritual like “Bigger Than Us” and “The Power & The Glory” could downright make you cry. All in all, time has only done White Lies good. This week, the band releases their third LP and continues that upwards movement in great fashion. Big TV is a concept album odyssey across neon landscapes lit by the blue glow of the western world’s television screen. With Big TV, White Lies spin their twisting tales of faith, love, and betrayal on a concrete plain – namely, that of the modern age, with all of its technologic caveats and loss of communication between the signals. White Lies have herein created their best record yet.
In the exposition of the title track, Big TV gives us a motivation. Our heroine is venturing away from her stable, quiet life with a long time boyfriend to move to the big city and meet the father she has never known. In a wonderful metaphor for her lust for the city lights and the hustle and bustle of the modern age, lead singer Harry McVeigh says she’s “living in a room downtown with a bed and a big TV”. That’s it - just a place to sleep and a constant port of access to the brilliance and hedonism of the new world outside her door. Throughout the album (and through the use of the totally gorgeous album art), the band portrays her as an astronaut lost in space. The city is cold and dark and she doesn’t quite know where she’s going, but the state of discovery is a magical thing in and of itself.
She finds her father, who is now a radio host (“First Time Caller”), but their reuniting doesn’t go quite as planned. With time and distance, both have forgotten how to love with balance (“Getting Even”), and the adjustment isn’t a very easy thing (“Change”). Big TV captures a number of emotions very well throughout the record. The atmosphere and sound of the record give the cinematic arc a wonderful foundation. The bright lights and the romanticized glory of moving away from your home town are all here, along with the cold reality that not much changes once you get there. With Big TV, White Lies are growing more melodic. The raw power of their first two records is still here in full quantities, but its met with a heavy dose of accessibility and sing-a-long value, which is sure to benefit their arena-ready sound. But never on Big TV does it feel like White Lies are jumping the gun to get radio play. It’s all a very natural progression. The soaring, full-bodied hooks of “There Goes Our Love Again” are perfectly counteracted by the hollow, lonesome piano of “Change”. The highs are grandiose and the lows are heartbreaking, and all along, the “Space” interludes guide us along this whirlwind journey with perspective and poise.
Lyrically, Big TV is all about imbalance and the internal battle between individualism and the choice to love others more than they may love you. The main character of the narrative sees an opportunity to trade in stability for something more rewarding, but then has to deal with the consequences and the hard truth that she comes into contact with. Just because she is pursuing a new level of love and understanding doesn’t mean that the object of her love is up for it. White Lies have always had a gift for taking relationship tunes further than skin deep, and Big TV material is no exception. The situations and emotions of the whole record culminate in the unspeakable power of the last track, “Goldmine”. McVeigh conveys a brutal discernment here that isn’t easy to come to terms with, but as the heroine of his story discovers, digging in the goldmine doesn’t guarantee you’ll find buried treasure. He warns her “This killing time is going to bruise forever. So turn it back – better late than never”. If you really sit down and listen to the lyrics, “Goldmine” will kick your ass. Here, White Lies give a really wonderful interpretation of the downfalls of love in the modern age. It’s pretty rad stuff, and concludes the epic saga of Big TV with the perfect bow on top of the cable box.
Big TV is out next Tuesday through Harvest Records in the US. Grab it on CD and vinyl at your local record store. White Lies will make a quick stop in the US in October, but will not make it up to Seattle. Check back to their website to see if dates get posted!