Heartbreak is a natural part of the human condition, and when it happens, we seem to attach romantic significance to everything we experience. Luckily, on its third album, Act III: Love Will Ruin (Part 1), Neverending White Lights provides a perfect soundtrack for these moments. With its dreamy, sorrowful melodies, fragile music, and crushing vocals, it’s a wonderfully painful representation of lost love.
A pseudonym for multi-instrumentalist Daniel Victor, Neverending White Lights has enjoyed critical success with its previous two Act albums. Whereas the first two albums largely stayed away from love, Act III is a thematic journey through longing, heartache, sadness, and beauty. Acting as a musical director, Victor once again enlists the help of several other artists, including Bed of Stars, Hot Hot Heat, and Pilot Speed. The end result is a melancholic glam rock/pop affair full of strings and touches U2, The Killers, and Muse.
The album opens with “Theme from Love Will Ruin,” which acts as a striking introduction. Its combination of piano riffs and strings makes it instantly affective and powerful, and it perfectly captures the mood of the album (as well as the emotions of its inspiration). In fact, it’s probably one of the most touching instrumentals I’ve ever heard. “Falling Apart” has a great electro rock quality, and its seductive verse and falsetto chorus complement each other greatly. Like most of Act III, this track is catchy and piercing.
Every track on Act III offers something special while also acting like chapters in a grand scheme. “Starlight” is reflective and poignant as it discusses what could’ve been, and “Say Hi for Me” deals with the idea of wishing you could see your ex again. “The Lonely War” explains reasons for failed love with gripping harmonies and melodies, and “The Waltz” utilizes “Eleanor Rigby” style strings to add a lot of drama to tenderness. Album closer “The Hereafter” is probably Act III’s most ambitious track; at almost nine minutes long, it goes through several melodies and transitions as it brings closure to the proceedings. The other half of the album is equally emotive.
While Act III succeeds masterfully at its goal, it has some subjective downsides. Its opening instrumental, which feels like an overture, arguably builds up expectations that are never met; none of its melodies are heard again, which takes away from its conceptual continuity and detracts from the album having the bookend quality it should. Also, the 1980s electronic/glam/rock/pop style may not appeal to all, and while it gives album a good sense of cohesion, it also makes tracks sound a bit too similar. Act III would be a nice soundtrack to a Bret Easton Ellis novel, though.
Overall, Act III is a beautiful and moving collection of songs about lost love. Victor is a masterful songwriter, and while there is little warmth on the album, its coldness expertly captures the stages of a serious breakup in musical form. This record will reopen old wounds and keep fresh ones from healing as you reflect on your past relationships, and anyone who’s been in a breakup recently (such as myself) will instantly identify with its ideas.