Saturday, 24 October 2009

Editors - In This Light and on This Evening

Let’s get the obvious out of the way right at the start. For their third album In This Light and on This Evening, Editors have by and large dropped the electric guitars and replaced them with synthesisers. It has divided some fans and critics alike and opened up the arguments about bands evolving. Is it a good or bad thing? And should that evolution be a natural subconscious one over a gradual period of time, or a very deliberate and immediate conscious choice? For Editors this change appears to have been strikingly deliberate.

It seems to Breaking More Waves that the band were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. Another album with same sonic construction as The Back Room and An End Has a Start would have most likely led to a slowly diminishing fan base. Many followers would lose interest, uninspired by more of the same, although the loyalty of those that remained may have become more passionate. Take a band like Oasis for such a model. More importantly though it may have had a detrimental effect on the artistic ability of the group. The regurgitation of more of the same may have dulled Editors creative nuance, ultimately leading to a paler imitation of their previous work. Again Oasis is very much the model here. A conscious change, however great the risk of polarising fans has the benefit of potentially rejuvenating flagging creative brain cells. It’s that old cliché that a change is as good as a rest.

Following these arguments it is therefore necessary to forget that the band have changed their style and simply ask, is the album any good. If this was a debut album the critics comparisons with their previous work would not and could not exist. So let’s criticise purely on the basis of what we hear.

What we hear is a mixed bag. In The Light and on This Evening is not an immediately obvious album. Besides the lofty industrial dance of first single Papillon with its massive Depeche Mode / Gary Numan keyboard riff - the sound of black steel demolishing the palace, there is nothing else here that jumps out as particularly radio friendly. However repeated listens show an album with some subtle depths and a cinematic electronic sound. When the band get it right works really well. Occasionally it does fail, but there are still some redeeming features in the weaker songs.

The opening title track of In This Light and on This Evening is superb. Starting with a repetitive pulsing gothic synth, lead singer Tom Smith intones darkly in the style of Andrew Eldritch lyrics about the earth inhaling and spitting rain before concluding “London’s become the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.” The mantra is repeated over and over as layers of widescreen string synth sound are gradually added before dirty experimental fuzzy noises, retro free jazz rock keyboards and drums smash apocalyptically in, the whole track working and wigging out to the stars. This is one example of the band getting it exactly right.

On the other hand, The Big Exit is one of the songs that doesn’t quite cut it, the song being a little too experimental, an unsettling mechanical groove underpinning a track that loops its way to the finish, without ever really finding a song. Likewise The Boxer is a maudlin piece that brings the imagery of “This place is our prison, it’s cells are the bars,” to describe a walk through a city full drunken violence - the dark side of drink culture Britain. Unfortunately the song kicks around the gutter rather than a golden highway, never finding a quality melody or the sounds to wrench you in. In both songs however Smiths singing is wonderfully mournful and the vocals clear enabling the lyrics to be easily heard.

But by and large In This Light and on This Evening is a bold album with a dramatic film like quality to it. Its sound is dark without being black, but has enough warmth in its calculated glacial synth sound to demand the attention. It is unlikely to propel The Editors further into the mainstream, but to answer our original question, is the album any good ? For the most part yes, as long as you listen with an open mind and take your time.

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