After two relatively straightforward rock albums, Editors are pulling off a Joy Division by ditching the guitars and moving into electronic territory on their third album. With “In This Light and On This Evening,” they may have reached the New Order chapter of their career – which is not necessarily a good thing. Going electronic did wonders for New Order, but this experiment is somewhat of a misguided attempt for Editors.
On this concise nine-track collection, Editors emerge as an almost completely new entity. Tom Smith’s slightly brooding baritone is still familiar, but the rest is foreign. Machine-like bass patterns and drum machines are the new inorganic foundation, while synthesizers replace guitars as the preferred weapon of choice, creating a dark and occasionally eerie atmosphere.
This eeriness begins on the opening title track, a suitable soundtrack to late-night meandering through the grit and grime of East London’s seedy underbelly, incorporating elements of the macabre futuristic sounds of ‘80s sci-fi films. It properly sets the mood and prepares you for a gloomy electronic experience.
While this change in direction suggests that Editors are going more for experimentation than accessibility, it still manages to produce a borderline Europop standout with “Papillon.” Dominated by an addictive synthesizer riff and swooping electronics, “Papillon” has the dance floor sensibilities to be a discotheque hit, a complete 180 from prior singles. Unlike most of the album’s tracks, its pulsating, head-nodding rhythm prevents it from getting bogged down in energy extinguishing slow tempos.
Keeping with the upbeat theme, “Bricks and Mortars” moves at an even pace with 16th-note drum patterns. It reaches an epic status through its dreamy and choir-like keyboards, and constitutes one of the few moments on this album where all the elements come together nicely.
Though many of the slower cuts don’t have enough panache or peccadilloes to maintain much interest, “The Boxer” is the one anomaly that draws you in. Its mix of low pitch, tinny xylophone and reverb-soaked guitars creates a setting that is simultaneously intimate and expansive, without sounding muddled.
Amidst this sudden transformation, the one aspect that remains somewhat steady is Smith’s vocal tone. There is a little more Ian Curtis influence this time around, further reinforcing the similarity between the singer and the late Joy Division front man, but it’s only to the band’s detriment. Whereas Smith’s vocals had more urgency and projection in previous efforts, he errs on the side of droning throughout “Evening.” This suffices when the music is front and center, but results in monotony when he has to take the lead, sucking the life out of the Editors’ songs.
Also, the more introspective lyrics of “An End Has A Start” are little to be found here, a bit surprising given the serious nature of that album. Commenting that “London’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen” or begging to “give a dog a bone” is all fine and dandy once in a while, but there isn’t very much meat or emotional weight to the lyrics; people can’t really connect.
Though Smith has never exactly been a wordsmith, the lyrics seem a little forced at times, like when he talks about how someone “ran with the dead today / with the moles from the CIA.” Perhaps Smith’s intent was to go for something less cerebral and more up front (if not random), but it’s not his forte. He should refrain from this nonsense on future albums.
“Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool” has some of this lyrical randomness, although what’s more off-putting is its mechanized aesthetic – the musical equivalent of industrial drudgery. It’s a mind-numbing and repetitive musical exercise that gets drilled into your head, and its fuzzy robot-like feel eventually becomes irksome.
Though you have to give Editors some kudos for going out on a limb and reinventing themselves, the band’s decision to nearly abandon what made it successful has resulted in an effort that is oftentimes alienating. It could have been the result of the guys wanting to extricate themselves from the British legion of bands deeply rooted in raw, guitar-based rock – but now Editors have leaned too far toward the other side of the spectrum.
Editors show some promise with their creative electronic forays, but the expense at which it comes is costly. With “In This Light and On This Evening,” they veer into a whole new realm, but at a point in their career when they should be mastering their craft.