On The Editors fourth full length long-player, they turn to Kings of Leon mainstay producer Jacquire King, presumably to emulate the former’s crossover success here in the U.S. It’s a notable goal and vocalist-guitarist Tom Smith seems more than a little eager to meet the task. Ditching the electronic heavy sound of 2009’s In This Light and On This Evening in favor of a more straight-ahead rock sound, the loss or original guitarist Chris Urbanowicz is immediately evident. The resulting album is The Editors least realized as it finds the band questioning which sound they want to pursue while mimicking several of their contemporaries.
“The Weight” is a brooding tune with campfire-like percussion and droning, bluesy Zeppelin-esque shards of guitar. Smith intimates at one point in the song ‘I promised myself/I wouldn’t talk about death/I know I’m/getting boring.’ For a lyricist whose turned a number of memorable phrases in his tunes, the lines are both intriguing and cause for concern. The remainder of the tune fails to launch and feels like a mission statement for the album as a whole.
“Sugar” boasts a driving bass line and the line ‘it breaks my heart to love you’ as the most interesting footnotes about the track. First single “A Ton of Love,” as previously noted in my Singles Bar review, blatantly rips off The Cult. In the context of this album as a whole, it makes perfect sense. The problem is there’s no other track on the album that lives up to the arena-like promise of this single.
“What is This Thing Called Love,” finds Smith employing his falsetto around some real stock strings and piano. There’s no guitar solo to save it either. It comes off as emulating Five for Fighting. ‘Honesty’ is more of the same – arena rock aspirations from a band that seems to have lost its ability to remain interesting.
Conversely, “Nothing” is something quite more than it’s title would have one believe – properly finding the balance between the melodrama of Smith’s lyrics, his presentation vocally, and and understated yet effective orchestral background. “Formaldehyde” has the ‘down in the lab late one night…’ feel to it with lyrics like ‘would you butcher my love to understand it,’ and ‘I’m yours to dissect now…’ amid a jiggly new-wave rhythm. There’s just something about a chorus of the word “Formaldehyde” that rings incredibly cheesy to me, though.
“Hyena” treads over more familiar territory with the swagger and sway the group had built a name upon – even if that name borrowed quite heavily from Interpol’s bag of tricks. While I love the line ‘I saw our shadows dance before the door,’ the melodramatic factor is amped up to almost deafening levels on “Two-Hearted Spider,” with the chorus ‘Every move you make/breaks me/Every smile you fake/breaks me…’
The album closes with some uncharacteristically strong songs in spite of the fact they’re mere imitations of tunes from other musical acts. “The Phone Book” rivals any of the great British acoustic sit-down stomps and reminds me of The Doves while the album bows with “Bird of Prey,” which literally could have been penned by Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody.
I think a fair comparison would be to look at a band along a similar trajectory…earlier this year Long Beach, CA’s Cold War Kids released their fourth album. It’s interesting to note the Cold War Kids third album (2011’s Mine is Yours) was also produced by King, but on their fourth – the band mostly self produced. That band was able to take the lessons in crossover King employed on their third album and refined it within the tones of their own signature sound for the follow-up. The Editors seem to be an album behind in that process and perhaps even farther behind in connecting with American audiences if they don’t regain a tone of originality soon…