With liner notes covered in bloody white roses and song titles like “The World Is Darker” and “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Heart,” it becomes quickly evident that we’re in for a saturnine affair with the second installment of the Neverending White Lights series. Chockfull of minor chords and Evanescence-reminiscent theatrics, you wouldn’t be too out of place draped in black at a high-school goth party with “Theme from the Blood and the Life Eternal” blaring in the background. Worse yet is that everything is filtered through the Muzak horrors of Pro Tools-like production, only adding to the homogeneity of sound on an album where much of the material already sounds the same. Somewhere along the way, slick production tricks and reverb effects won over, and the soul of the music was sucked out.
Canada-based Daniel Victor began the Neverending White Lights project so that already established performers could expand their output by way of collaboration. In 2005, Victor released the well-received Act 1: Goodbye Friends of the Heavenly Bodies. Though not groundbreaking, it highlighted the creativity of its curator and his ability to make a cohesive whole out of many voices. This second installment finds Victor collaborating with artists such as Melissa Auf Der Maur, Sune Rose Wagner of the Raveonettes, and Aqualung. But this time around, the result is painstakingly lackluster.
Once upon a time, performers relied on their bodies, voices, and stories to capture their audiences. Artists like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Billie Holiday didn’t need technology to educe a reaction out of their listeners; they relied on their ability to translate palpable emotion and life-experience through song. But with the dawning of advanced recording technology comes the ability to make someone even as vapid and untalented as Paris Hilton a pop star.
To a less heinous degree, said technology also seduces talented people like Daniel Victor with its unfailing ability to refine, smooth over, and perfect until a product is so polished it loses its core. Such is the case with The Blood and the Life Eternal. Amid all of the feigned pain, suffering, and darkness, nothing feels like the real thing. When you listen to Billie Holiday singing “Good Morning Heartache,” you know what it was like to walk a day in her shoes. Listen to Eternal, and you’re left with an empty shell.