Editors | In This Light and on This Evening
Most Likely To: seem overly dramatic, even to a Goth.
Over the course of the two previous Editors albums, it was never quite clear if vocalist Tom Smith identified more with Ian Curtis’ self-loathing or Ian McCulloch’s loathing of everyone but himself. On the Birmingham band’s third album, Smith makes his allegiance clear: the things he loathes more than himself and more than anyone else are common sense and restraint.
Smith has always been just a tad over-the-top, but fittingly so fronting a band that took most of its cues from Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division. A little melodrama goes with the territory – it’s not like the English post-punk bands of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s that are the Editors’ bread-and-butter were subtle themselves. But on In This Light and on This Evening, Editors trade in their guitars for synths and get in touch with their inner Ultravox, and the results are unintentionally comical.
The band, to their misfortune, have stumbled across a fundamentally unfair bit of business – when a drama queen like Ian McCulloch or Bono is fronting a band with ringing, anthemic guitars, they sound impassioned and urgent. When a similarly high-strung man-diva (I suppose there’s an actual word for that, but I’ve not bothered to discover it) like Ultravox’s Midge Ure or The Associates’ Billy MacKenzie was backed by synthesizers and drum machines, they constantly tiptoed on the edge of self-parody, very often crossing over it. It doesn’t really seem fair that an over-emotive goofball can get away with it if he’s got a guitar band behind, but probably goes a long way towards explaining why more often than not the vocalists in synth bands opt for deadpan deliveries.
Ah, if only Smith had learned that lesson. Before, when he groused about smokers hanging around hospitals over a swelling guitar backing, he sounded like he was making a truly meaningful observation. Now when he grumbles a line like “London’s become the most beautiful thing I’ve seen” over an ominous synthesizer rumble, he sounds like he’s just discovered Jack the Ripper dismembering a puppy on foggy, foggy night in Hell. It’s unclear what effect he actually is striving for, but derisive laughter most likely isn’t it. The man can’t even deliver the line “give a dog a bone” without it sounding like the fate of the world depends on it. And when he adds song titles like “Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool” to the mix, it’s impossible to not roll one’s eyes at the sheer self-important silliness of the whole thing.
It’s a shame that Smith’s leaden theatricality drags the whole album down like the Lusitania, because musically the album has its definite moments. Producer Flood applies the grimy atmospherics he’s brought to other formerly squeaky clean bands like U2 and Depeche Mode to good effect, and there’s a few decent hooks to be found in the proceedings. “Bricks and Mortar” saunters along like a Thomas Dolby song if he’d been produced by Martin Hannett, while “Papillion” sports a synth line that even hacks like Animotion would have known how to ride to the top of the charts. Smith, on the other hand, uses it as an excuse to ponder death, misery and the absence of God.
It’s hard to know if the songs on this album would have been more successful had the band stuck to its original guitar-centric approach, but it is clear that if they intend to continue in this direction, Smith needs to take a freaking chill-pill, and the sooner the better.