The Back Room
3 of 5 Stars
On the heels of their sold-out US concert tour, Editors (no article, oh-so-clever) have finally released their first CD, “The Back Room,” in the States, after several months of growing popularity in the United Kingdom.
Joy Division comparisons are already tiresome—it seems that every melancholy vocalist in a post-punk band is compared to the late Ian Curtis—but inevitable with Editors, whose debut offers an uneven retread of the sound, style and lyrics of their legendary Manchester-based predecessors.
When everything comes together, as on standout tracks like “Munich” and “Fingers in the Factories,” Editors successfully combine lead singer Tom Smith’s distant voice with energetic guitars chattering across a stark, echoing background. In “Munich,” the album’s stellar lead single, fast-paced guitars skitter up and down while Smith’s deep voice implores, “people are fragile things you should know by now, be careful what you put them through.”
Similarly, the up-tempo punctuated guitar in “Blood” propels toward the murderously insistent refrain, “blood runs through your veins, that’s where our similarity ends.” Later, in “Fingers in the Factories,” feedback-laden guitars charge along a simple, violent drumbeat, running together through harsh lyrics (think “dark satanic mills”) then crashing into a pounding chorus.
As the album continues, however, the limited vocal range and thin instrumental palette leaves Editors sounding repetitive. Without the energy of “Munich,” dark and depressing songs like “Fall” become dangerously boring. The likewise ponderous “Camera” lacks any verve or compelling guitar hooks, and, instead, meanders for over five minutes. And the derivative “Bullets” monotonously covers the same aesthetic territory as previous songs, but, without a shred of creativity or punch, simply repeats the chorus “you don’t need this disease” ad nauseum.
Besides Joy Division, the other obvious comparison of Editors is to Interpol, both of whom sing dark and detached tales amidst reverb-loaded guitars and squeaky clean production. But whereas Interpol, especially on “Turn on the Bright Lights,” threaten to sprawl into bloated, albeit atmospheric, songs, Editors maintain the same calculated, tight sound throughout.
Alas, like Interpol, Editors suffer from mediocre and repetitively bleak lyrics. Because their vocal range and guitar style is already rather limited, lyrical diversity could have provided Editors with much-needed variety, but instead the tedious lyrics only compound the band’s repetitive sound. On the first track, “Lights,” Smith announces, “I’ve got a million things to say.” If only it were true.
That much of “The Back Room” is listenable is a credit more to Joy Division than to the band itself; although there are some great songs, Editors second-hand aesthetic provides only occasional bursts of originality. In their debut, Editors have chosen a rather narrow aural niche; hopefully their sophomore effort will manage to expand the sophisticated and energetic sound of their best songs while avoiding the dreary repetitiveness of the worst stretches of “The Back Room.”
—Staff writer Piotr C. Brzezinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.