Music by numbers from the well established moody rockers.
I want to preface this review by saying that I would describe myself as a fan of Editors. In the last 3 months I have listened to them 316 times, and of those 43 plays are just for cracking single ‘An End Has A Start’ off their similarly titled second album. Why am I saying this? Because I want you to know that the following sentence doesn’t come from bias. Editors suck. It just takes a fan of theirs to realise exactly how and why.
This is the fourth album from Editors, and crucially it follows the departure of lead guitarist Chris Urbanowicz who played a major role in defining their signature sound. I want to take some time to dissect this sound because if any band can be accused of making the same song again and again, it’s Editors. They created the template on debut album The Back Room, and it goes a little something like this.
- Big Guitar Riff: high up, lots of reverb, mainly down-stroke quavers around 4 notes
- Verse: Lead guitar cuts out, voice sings 1 or 2 repeated declarative phrases over bass, drums and strummed rhythm guitar.
- Chorus: Riff from 1 returns as vocals create another declarative phrase as drums play Indie Disco rhythm
- Verse as before
- Chorus as before
- Bridge: most instruments cut out as another declarative statement is sung over pounding 4 to the floor drums
- Chorus as before, again.
Now, you may look at that and say: ‘That’s just a classic song structure from every rock band in history’ and you’d almost be right. The problem for Editors is twofold. First, their riffs and sound are just far too similar, if you care to listen to the songs ‘Munich’, ‘An End Has A Start’, ‘Blood’, ‘A Ton of Love’, ‘The Racing Rats’ and ‘Lights’, there comes a point where you know exactly what’s going to happen and how. Secondly considering the bands that Editors take their influence from (and it’s a good list of bands) R.E.M., Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and Interpol, these are all bands that could subvert song structures incredibly well and still create an energetic dark sound. In fact Editors are one of the bands that created a ‘pop-post-punk’ if you will, as they took the elements of (what I consider at least to be) the best rock sub-genre and made them as simple and as basic as possible. Lyrics about death! Rapid downstroke guitars! Indie disco drums! They are part of the reason any band that remotely sounds post-punky now get dismissed as Joy Division-copiers by lazy music journalists (me? never!).
They do pay the price for this over-simplification of one of music’s most potent genres. Specifically, that when the tempo drops so does the quality of the song. This is Editors no. 1 fault, and, I think, the reason they will never and have never been more than 3rd or 4th headliner on a festival day. Editors inability to write a convincing ballad is so vital because, again, the bands they are influenced by are fantastic at that, often having ballads as some of their most famous songs ever. R.E.M.? ‘Nightswimming’. Interpol? ‘NYC’ or the sublime ‘Untitled’. Joy Division? ‘Atmosphere’. Even U2, who lead the influences on this latest record have ‘With or Without You’. Consider the latest attempt from The Weight of Your Love, career low ‘The Phone Book’ (see video below), an awkward slice at railroad blues laden with clichés and sounding like the indie answer to ‘I’m Yours’ (have a guess if that’s a complement or not).
What compounds all of this is that their ballad ineptitude is symptomatic of a much more worrying problem: Editors have nothing to say. Now this gets bandied around a lot as a quick putdown because it’s very hard to argue or explain. But I’m still going to have a go at it. On the opener of this album singer Tom Smith sings the line ‘I promised myself / I wouldn’t sing about death / I know I’m getting boring’. It’s true, he is getting boring, but not just when he sings about death. Take the first single they ever released as Editors, ‘Bullets’ and look at the lyrics. Of 42 lines only 6 of them are not variations on ‘you don’t need this disease’. That’s embarrassing, but repetition alone isn’t enough to dismiss them as vapid. Smith makes a point of saying his lyrics are indirect to allow for different interpretations, so far so like their influences. But the problem isn’t that the lyrics are too vague, (Micheal Stipe’s lyrics are bizzare and often impenetrable, but you always feel there’s something there to find) it’s that they’re actually specific enough to reveal that there’s nothing under the surface.
Consider the chorus to my favourite song by them, ‘An End Has A Start’: ‘You came on your own / And that’s how you will leave / With hope in your hands / and air to breathe’. All you have is the central idea behind the most famous indie song ever in ‘How Soon Is Now’ and then an awkward rhyme for ‘leave’ shoehorned in. Is it really pedantry to ask why on earth the ‘air to breathe’ is significant. What about the lyrics in ‘All Sparks’. Sure, a standard metaphor for the fact that everything dies, but that is it. There is nothing else there to discover or feel. It’s hardly ‘Losing My Religion’. What makes it infuriating is that every Editors song sounds like it does have a really deep meaning. When Smith howls out ‘If a plane were to fall from the sky / How big a hole would it leave in the surface of the earth?’ It really sounds like the most profound question ever asked of man. Except that simply reaching for a real meaning (what significance do all of our actions truly have?) seems like pushing it too far. It’s like Smith is genuinely tormented by his inability to understand the required physics to calculate a plane’s impact crater.
Ironically on the new album they have arguably improved on all of these past faults. The lyrics, while still clichéd, do at least have some real meaning. It’s heartening to hear Smith sing about how much he cares for his family, even if it does bring up his partner Edith Bowman, who is currently being a very poor filler for the Adam and Joe slot on 6 Music. And with Urbanowicz gone, the band are less drawn to recreating those same song structures without his iconic reverby guitar riffs reminding us of their old songs.
But unfortunately for the poor Editors they are damned just as much if they do as if they don’t. I said at the start of this article that I am an Editors fan, and despite all that I’ve written above I stand by it. What makes me an Editors fan is that when those tempos get fast, the indie disco drums come out, and Smith yells a convincing but vacuous statement it is exciting. When they produce their formula it really bloody works, no matter how much of a pretentious pseudo-intellectual blogger (cough) you may be.
And so, Editors failure to conform to their past successes results in an album that just feels devoid of purpose. The Weight of Your Love is the perfect 5 out of 10. It isn’t properly bad. It has moments that show Editors doing what they do well in fast paced singles. It has Editors at their worst, in the ballads like ‘The Phone Book’, and it manages to not sound exactly like what they’ve done before. It is an album by numbers: new, old, good, bad, and definitively Editors.