A maudlin shard of black glass, seemingly sharpened by the same influences that carved Interpol’s sound on this side of the pond, Birmingham’s Editors are a jagged, bright light for those who embrace the dark corners of pop.
Relying heavily on staccato guitar patterns bathed in echo and the disco-driven hi-hat beat that has been the earmark of any band striving for disaffected cool since the millennium turned over, the Editors are perfectly modern — if only because they’re so achingly anachronistic. Teardrop Explodes and early U2 figure prominently as influences, but from the stark black-and-white album art to Tom Smith’s bruising baritone, Joy Division, in particular, is worn like a boxer’s pre-fight bravado.
Prefaced by three well-received singles in the United Kingdom (“Bullets,” “Munich” and “Blood”) and released on the recently revamped Kitchenware Records, The Back Room unfortunately holds little in reserve for anyone whose interest was piqued by that trio of sparklingly tense tracks.
“Lights” is an abrupt opener, with Smith’s vocal swimming in the mimeographed guitar lifted directly from the Edge’s oeuvre of tricks. “Munich” and “Blood” are solid singles, driven by anthemic choruses and paranoid lyrics. On the former, Smith tersely reminds us that “People are fragile things,” while the latter warns, “There’s nothing harder than keeping a promise.” “Fall” features a beautiful moment of interplay in the first verse between a diamond waterfall of guitar and Smith’s delivery of the word “juggernauts,” but the song could easily stand to have its final minute guillotined. And that’s when you first notice a numbness: The band effectively suffocates the momentum gained.
There are essentially only two dark stars left from this point forward. The brief, monochromatic single “Bullets,” which relies on a furiously repetitive chorus and prefaces the arrival of the album’s highlight, “Fingers in the Factories.” An explosive song, “Factories” nods to Morrissey’s lyrical influence (“As the sun goes down in a broken town and the fingers bleed in the factories”), but unfortunately relies on a blueprint far too familiar at seven tracks in.
The Back Room has the feeling of an album cobbled together too quickly. Many of the songs seem vague and unfinished. Even the tightly wound singles seem built of modular parts, able to be mixed and matched effortlessly into an infinite combination of the same song. Thankfully, it’s a damn catchy tune.
Far from having crafted perfection, the Editors ace blissful paranoia well enough to enrapture anyone in love with classics from Echo, Teardrop Explodes, Comsat Angels, and Curtis and Co. And for those just settling into the long and winding wait for the next Interpol album ca. 2007, the Editors will be a welcome addition to your iPod’s Mope Mix in ’05.