Bright Lights, Big City and a Big TV
Big TV centers itself around, unsurprisingly, the idea of a big television— and everything that comes with it. The third album from the British group White Lies brings life to a fairly mundane narrative: a couple living in the city and all the quotidian trials surrounding their lives.
The title track, which begins the album, opens to Harry McVeigh’s vocals echoing in a spacious sonic environment that mimics the big, lonely feeling of the nighttime urban landscape. Synths rise up, buoying up guitars and keys. “If you could raise a star / from garbage on the street, / then you could make a modern life / for a modern girl to lead,” McVeigh sings. And with that, it suddenly becomes a bass-driven pseudo-techno dance song. It’s a slick condemnation of the rat race, where you are “Alone, / I feel alone, / when I’m living in a building / like a tooth in heaven’s throat.” Where at the end of the day, all you have is your bedroom and the flickering half-light of a television screen.
Big TV captures this ultra-modern/tale-as-old-as-time love story by blending retro and contemporary sounds. On “There Goes Out Love Again,” White Lies align themselves with an ‘80s retro feel, while simultaneously layering on synths and all the latest electronic effects. McVeigh’s low, suave vocals, which have earned comparison to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, belt out a desperate plea: “There goes our love again / forgive my heart, forgive my heart…I didn’t go far, I didn’t go far, / I didn’t go far and I came home.” But there’s something lacking in songs like these: White Lies have melodic rock down solid, but the album falls short in the emotional department. Even on this song about love, there’s little vulnerability left beneath the veneer of stylized pop and sweeping synths.
“First Time Caller,” for example, recalls the serendipitous love story of Sleepless in Seattle, but even its hooky chorus and pleading bridge won’t leave you reaching for the tissues like the movie. Big TV spins out a slew of well crafted, radio-ready material, like the upbeat “Mother Tongue” or the hip synth-pop of “Getting Even.”
But it’s the small details that are best: it’s moments like the brief instrumental interlude of “Space I,” with its fleeting melody played out on tinkling keys, or the somber intro of pulsing piano chords on “Change,” that feel the most authentic. On “Big TV,” McVeigh sings, “But why can’t anything be real? / Emotion like the movies feel”— and that’s exactly what this album searches for, and what White Lies perhaps have yet to find.