James Murphy cheekily poked fun at the clichés of pop fickleness in “Losing My Edge” when he said that a band was trading in their guitars for turntables and vice versa. Swap turntables for synthesizers and the cliché still holds true. Now that the mania over the angular post-punk of the middle part of the aughts has subsided, many of the bands that rode that particular wave have sought new directions. This is certainly true of Birmingham’s Editors. Quickly pigeonholed as yet another in a line of Joy Division impostors, not to mention a bit late after Interpol’s lauded debut, Editors had a tough go of it, but came out looking and sounding pretty good. Singles such as “Blood,” “Bullets” and “Munich” seemed to capture the essence of the particular spirit of the day, and the band tried to recapture that spirit on their second album, selling well in the UK, but not so much elsewhere. As if to follow the trajectory of their biggest influence, Editors have swapped the guitars for synths, a la Joy Division morphing into New Order, but the effect is more Crush than Movement.
That’s not to say that I’m not an OMD fan. In fact, Crush was one of my favorite albums in eighth grade, but for one, it’s not what people expect from Editors, and more importantly, the music doesn’t match Tom Smith’s affected vocals. I was encouraged by the opening title track, as Smith traded in his overly annunciated glottal croaking for an ominously low creepiness, and it works. However, it was the last time I would be pleasantly surprised by In This Light and On This Evening. With “Bricks and Mortar,” Editors sound as if they’re trying to funnel an ’80s U2 anthem through a Peter Murphy filter for a Blade Runner sequel. Lead single “Papillon” follows, and the situation doesn’t tend to improve. Here’s the thing: this album was released in England last October and people tend to love this track. That’s fine. Musically, it’s a fairly accurate nod to Depeche Mode, Yaz, Ultravox and Heaven 17. But, I would argue, the reasons these bands triumph(ed) and Editors fall short are twofold: the vocal dynamics, at times dramatic, at others disaffected, and the lyrics. Martin Gore would never write a line as clumsy as “It kicks like a sleep twitch.” Sure, Marty has had his gaffes, but this one trumps most. And I haven’t even gotten to “You are what you eat/ You’ll become digested.” Oof.
The album continues to unravel from here. “You Don’t Know Love” is simply forgettable, while “The Big Exit” (amongst a few other tracks) seems directly stolen from a transcription of “Fly on the Windscreen.” In the end, other than a few memorable hooks, there is nothing here to hold onto. It is a slick surface presentation, to be sure, but without much nuance. I imagine you’ve probably heard everything here before. With that being the case, I’d suggest breaking out your ’80s collection again, adding in some krautrock, new wave and post-punk, then make a nice mix and revel in where this all originated.
Depeche Mode – Black Celebration
Heaven 17 – The Luxury Gap
The Human League – Dare!