Considering that White Lies told NME in an interview that Ritual was heavily influenced by Kings of Leon, we should consider this album a swimming success, as the recent KoL are the worst thing to happen to Rock and Roll since the day Buddy Holly died. But other than that, there’s not much else praise to give the album.
Think of every adjective you know for contrived, and you’ve just about summed up White Lies’ Rituals. And it’s unfortunate, really, because their debut To Lose My Life was fantastic. Sure it was derivative, but when it comes to this genre (post-punk revival, whatever you want to call it), isn’t everything just completely derivative of Joy Division? Even the absolute best within the genre – Interpol, Bloc Party, (parts of) The Killers – are almost shameless re-imagination of Ian Curtis’s original work.
White Lies were no exception, but the hope was that they’d fall into the “greats” category and not fall by the wayside like so many before them. And things were looking good. To Lose My Life had powerful vocals, driving bass guitar, and catchy guitar riffs. Sure we’d heard it all before, but that didn’t necessarily make it any less enjoyable. I’ll take a good Joy Division wannabe over just about anything. Only problem is, there are very few good ones out there. White Lies were a possibility. They’d have to prove themselves with their sophomore album, and we’re sorry to report that they fell short of the mark.
The former NME darlings went bigger and consequently fell harder. Every track incorporates some form of half-cocked musicianship that was not on the last album. Turntable sound effects, electronic sampling, and brass and string arrangements all utilized for the first time ever, and they all comes across as painfully maladroit. Lead single “Bigger Than Us” is perhaps the most guilty of this, and is a five minute ride of seemingly unorganized sound with brief glimpses of themselves. They would’ve done much better sticking to their guns, however manufactured said guns may have been.
Lyrically, the album was on par with regular White Lies; brooding, ominous lyrics meant to accompany brooding, ominous music. On one of the better tracks on the album, “Streetlights”, the lyrics are unabashedly dour: “Hold tight for heartbreak/Buckle up for loneliness…Can anybody hear me?/Is anybody out there?/Not a soul in the streetlight…” So, considering that this is the norm for the genre, there is little complaint that can be made concerning the lyricism.
Even the musicianship isn’t bad when they remain in waters they’re accustomed to. “Bad Love” is perhaps the strongest album on the track, and the powerful drums and prominent guitar provide a perfect background for Harry McVeigh’s especially striking vocals as he sings with gusto “If I’m guilty of anything, it’s loving you too much/Only sometimes love means getting a little rough.” This track is a gem compared to the others, proving that White Lies do have it in them somewhere. They just chose not to use it.
They went big on this record (probably too big), taking a calculated risk with hopes of moving up in the world of music. And part of taking a risk means setting yourself up for possible failure. Unfortunately, failure was looming for White Lies. The majority of this album is a hodgepodge of sound that doesn’t seem to fit. There are brief glimpses of glory, but they are few and far between. Time will tell if White Lies become one of the derivative post-punk revival champs, but this album would indicate that we have just another lackluster Joy Division copycat.