Monday, December 7, 2009

Review: Editors - In This Light and on This Evening (* * * 1/2)

The sophomore album is often the one in which a band must prove themselves to be more than just a passing fad, but with Editors, their third effort is the one to bear the most weight of that expectation. After a solid first album with The Back Room, the British rock outfit drew comparisons to Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen, which - of necessity - made them seem an awful lot like Interpol. Not a bad set of influences, certainly, but after a passable yet overtly familiar second effort, An End Has a Start, that did little to differentiate them from their peers both old and new, it seemed as if Editors may unfortunately fade into anonymity if they stayed their current course. Fortunately, according to frontman Tom Smith, "If we'd tried to make another more traditional guitar record, I don't think we'd have got through it... for our own sanity, we had to do something we hadn't done before." Good for them and good for us, as In This Light and on This Evening may not be the band's strongest effort, it's definitely their most distinct and ambitious recording and gives hope to Editors future.

Longtime fans of the group will most likely be split on the new sound, which relies more heavily on synthetic musical elements yet somehow seems less polished than the band's previous outings. The array of digital instrumentation expands Editor's familiar style and varies the results, while many of the songs carry a more intimate and raw feeling than before despite the band's signature grandiosity, which generally remains intact here. The self-titled lead track, perhaps the album's most stirring moment, begins with a synth riff under Smith's heavily affected vox, then slowly builds with organic instrumentation but remains both dark and beautiful throughout. It eventually climaxes into something just short of epic, but Smith's voice never rises to his usual soaring croon - and the restraint is much appreciated. The next cut, "Bricks and Mortar," is similarly effective in that it shows a band that is willing to forgo their former tricks and reach for something more unique, though it's easily recognizable as an Editors song if you were to strip away the digital programming scattered throughout.

From this strong start, In This Light and on This Evening becomes less consistent, like first single, "Papillon," which unfortunately comes across as more awkward than ambitious, or the dull, dense ballad "Like Treasure." But even on these less inspired moment, Editors' willingness to go outside their well-established comfort zone and take some risks should be applauded, and the nine tracks comprising the album are thoroughly entertaining. Still, though the band has proved a desire to stay relevant and fresh, it remains to be seen how this third effort is received as In This Light and on This Evening breaks the band's own mold in some ways and revels in it in others - perhaps too alienating for fans and too familiar for critics. Personally, I've enjoyed digging into a record that is both surprising and - on occasion - frustrating, but provides some of this English band's best tunes in the process.