White Lies’ third album, Big TV, doesn’t shy away from ambition, delivering a stylized, polished concept album that tells the story of young lovers moving from a small town to the fast-paced city. But bigger isn’t necessarily better, as the bulk of the songs display a stunning similarity to much of what White Lies has done in the past. Synths are more prevalent here than on the band’s previous efforts, but the subtle layer of electronic effects does little to break up the often-doleful atmosphere.
The expansive, space-rock-esque title track kicks things off in earnest, laying out the thematic foundation for the rest of the album’s heavyhearted narrative. “And you can get me work, but I can’t work for free/I’ve got a room downtown with a bed and big TV,” croons frontman Harry McVeigh, his voice carrying the familiar tone of eager longing that’s become his signature. Big TV comprises opposing tonal peaks and valleys; slow-burners like “Change” and “Heaven Wait” are offset by catchy, riff-driven numbers like lead single “There Goes Our Love Again” and “First Time Caller,” whose rather bland hook (“She said I was a first-time caller, long time listener/I’ve been waiting a while to talk to you”) is counterbalanced by an elegant, echoing string section expertly interwoven with drummer Jack Brown’s razor-sharp percussion.
Despite its lofty aspirations, though, much of Big TV is formulaic, with the group doing just enough to keep their fanbase happy, but refusing to branch out beyond the trendy U.K. new-wave revivalism that made their 2009 debut, To Lose a Life, such a success. It’s a pleasant enough listen, and the hooks are plentiful, but White Lies don’t appear to want to completely engage their audience in the album’s prevalent, genuinely important message that contemporary success can be deceptively shallow when sought under duress.