Much like the post-grunge movement of the late ’90s (or, nu-metal if you like, but let’s hope you don’t), the bands of the post-post-punk movement/new-wave revival are mired in a closed-circuit loop around the most obvious elements of the genre they simultaneously proceed and ape. Just as the usual suspects of post-grunge — obvious lovelies like Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Staind — strip-mined the surface rage that covered grunge’s deeper ennui and grave-robbed the detuned guitars but left behind the buried melodies and songcraft, acts like Interpol, Frausdots, or the subtlety-stilted I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness sift through the rudiments of post-punk, liberally borrowing the most observable basics of the sound. The usual critic adjectives apply here: The bass playing is rubberyTM and/or throbbingtm; the guitars are shardstm of jaggedtm noise; and the vocalist sounds like some otherworldly laryngeal crossbreed between Ian CurtisTM and Robert SmithTM, a deep baritone voice that will maneuver you through a forest of interpersonal malady set to a steady mid-tempo drumbeat. These ’80s revivalists (or, let’s be honest, drop the words “post-punk” and “‘80s revivalists” and replace them with the decidedly lazy but accurate shorthand reference of “Joy Division”) then proceed to marinate over said adjectives, to endlessly repeat them, with few or no signs of artistic progression, always the same, running toward nothing again and again and again. Like the post-grunge bands of the last decade, these groups appear to be copying an earlier sound because it they like how it sounds rather than doing so out of any intrinsic artistic impulse to create.
Thoroughly enmeshed in the revivalist scene, Birmingham, England’s Editors performed a mini-set on Jimmy Kimmel Live on July 25 to promote An End Has Start (which was released by Kitchenware in June and is less Closer, more October). At first, the band members sounded as if they had grown past the occasionally wan and generic sound of their peers and were verging into a realm of frenetic immediacy. Playing to a crowd of the converted — black fingernail polish, skinny jeans, stylish angst — the band opened with “An End Has a Start,” a crackling, icy churn of a song, with Chris Urbanowitz’s ringing, Edge-y guitar punctuating vocalist Tom Smith’s deep, enunciated croon. This was followed by the raging, transcendent “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors,” a song whose album counterpart is not much more than a better-than-average Coldplay track with teeth but in live form became the evening’s most visceral, emotive performance. Beginning with a single drumbeat bathed in Smith’s piano and gentle vocals, it exploded into a screaming near-masterwork British guitar rock, with Smith wringing his body through a series of histrionics that lie somewhere between orgasm and epilepsy. It ends with the full band letting loose with harmonizing choir vocals — something Ian Curtis wouldn’t be caught dead doing and Chris Martin would die to accomplish half as well.
It’s at this point that the televised performance ended, and, as it would happen, the live performance should have stopped there as well. Although the first two songs were wrenched away from their lightly anemic recorded versions, were full-bodied and reached for a level of artistry beyond the simple imitation that weighs down so many of the Editors’ fellow revivalists, the rest of the set was mired by songs not only derivative of the post-punk scene but of the Editors themselves — each song sounded exactly like the one that preceded it. “Munich,” with its shards of jagged guitar noise and Curtis-like vocals, lazily recalled Unknown Pleasures-era Joy Division, and the urgent, throbbing bass and sharp winding guitars of “Bones” reminded me of “Munich”-era Editors. Further, Smith’s frenzied performance began to look like exactly that — a performance — as the twisted facial contortions and body flailing that so energized “Smokers” devolved into what appeared to be a series of mannered, stylized quirks, an accurate reproduction of frontman neurosis. It was indicative of the Editors’ problem: they have immense talent, but spend the majority of it repeating themselves, content to stay with what’s working, and what’s working are the sounds of the past.
Artistic growth isn’t a sure sell; it’s a risk. And with risk comes the possibility of failure, but also the chance to capture something electric and alive. Which is exactly what the Editors briefly did before settling back into the comfort zone overpopulated by their counterparts, turning their abbreviated set from something you experience into something you simply watch. Standing there, packed in and pixilated with the rest of the audience, I wished that a band so dead-set on the art of repetition would be willing to repeat risk again and more often and edit out the rest.
“An End Has a Start” on Jimmy Kimmel Live: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Azqt_vQQT-I