Although the possibility of the Editors developing an original sound appears to be increasingly distant, the band has at least avoided the second-album syndrome in a fairly distinct fashion. Instead of reheating the sonic leftovers of its 2005 debut, The Back Room, and sighing even deeper into an Ian Curtis afterworld of eighties mope rock, the U.K. quartet of post-punk revivalists (gotta mention it at least once, might as well do it now; see also: Interpol, Kaiser Chiefs, The Bravery, and — sort of — Art Brut) has broadened its palette of influential bands to copy from, with An End Has a Start blossoming from the somewhat one-note Back Room into the emotional grandstanding of Coldplay and October–era U2. Nearly all of the songs here, such as the paroxysmal “The Racing Rats” or the chiming, pounding “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors” strive for the (self-)importance and weight of those groups, but they are instead felled by portentous lyrics and a weak, diaphanous production, both of which work to build a wall between the immediacy of the music and you, the listener. Which is unfortunate, as most of the songs here, lifelined to so many other, better Brit-rock acts though they may be, are uniformly stronger, well-developed, and reach higher than anything on the Editors’ Mercury-nominated debut.
First, the production: Jacknife Lee has knob-twisted An End Has a Start into a diffuse, sub-Daniel Lanois sheen of thin-skinned noise (see also: Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City, another Lee reduction). That keeps a track like “Smokers” — easily the best song on the album — from reaching the level of raucous, noisy catharsis it might achieve in the arena it sounds so desperately written to be performed in. Buried under Lee’s Vaseline slick of gossamer production, when the rest of the music swells or explodes is sounds as if it does so with hesitation rather than with abandon.
The album’s other major handicap stems from frontman Tom Smith, who almost manages to out-Rattle and Hum Bono with embarrassingly overwrought lyrical stabs. Several tracks, like the slow-dance weepy “Weight” (“Every little piece of your life will add up to one/ Every little piece of your life will mean something to someone”) or the otherwise intense, swirling crescendos of “When Anger Shows” (“How can you know a thing’s worth if your hands aren’t moved to do a day’s work”), buckle under the pressure of Smith’s heavy-handed wordplay. It’s only the warmth of his voice — a more emotive, melodic rendering of the generic cool dread croon found all throughout the long chain of his revivalist contemporaries — that keeps the lyrics from completely obliterating the genuine sentiments that lie behind them.
And there are other small treasures to be found here, as well. Musically, the album’s title track sounds more like U2 than Bono and company have sounded in years, with guitarist Chris Urbanowicz’s glossy, ringing lines snaking throughout the song and wrapping around bassist Russell Leetch and drummer Ed Lay’s solid, martial rhythms. Elsewhere, the fragile, elegiac piano-and-vocal ballad “Spiders” closes An End Has a Start with the best song that Chris Martin never wrote.
The question that remains, though, is how long a band can continue to explore its influences before developing enough nuances to furnish a semi-original sound of its own. Just two albums into their career, the members of the Editors have outpaced Interpol’s trilogy of mannered arrested development by imitating two bands that aren’t Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnymen, but they are still too tied to their musical ancestors for any serious maturation to take place. At the very least, I’d recommend they listen to Talk Talk, take Nigel Godrich out on loan and eventually release Kid B, because I don’t think I could take another Zooropa or Pop, let alone another X&Y.