Earlier this year Doves cited the influence of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack on their song -Jetstream’, which made a lot of sense with their history of synthesised layers to their northern British rock sound. Now we find Editors referencing the soundtrack to another ’80s science fiction/noir-ish classic as an influence on what is a definite change of direction for this other northern British band – who always did have something of the night about them anyhow. This time it’s Brad Fidel’s original Terminator soundtrack. Like Blade Runner it was music evocative of both the new electronic era ushered in in the ’80s but also of -the future’ – so tied were these soundtracks to the imaginings in the films they were written for. Of course the resurgence of the synthesised sound means there’s also a certain in-fashion reason for this influence, but the idea of mixing Editors dark, atmospheric rock sound with electronics referencing an apocalyptic future really whets the appetite.
But of course the big question you’re asking is ‘does it work?’. Yes and, indeed, no.
Opening with the slow burning title track, its slow synth beginning and repetitive lyrics is a cinematic warm-up not a million miles away from the aforementioned -Jetstream’. With images of London inhaling and then raining, it’s certainly clear that the band’s new take on the world is one looking towards an apocalypse of some sort and it comes as no surprise to hear rumours that Tom Smith has been influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road too.
Track two, -Bricks And Mortar’ really reveals what they have been playing around with in creating the sound for the new album. The song is a classic meaty Editors number but gone are the high pitched guitars and live drumming sound (not just here, but almost on the whole album) to be replaced by looped drums and unadulterated ’80s synths. The reference to Terminator isn’t hidden at all and the intro sounds almost like it was lifted from Fidel’s soundtrack, especially on the synth choir sound in the chorus. It builds up energetically and Tom’s lyrics are hand in glove with the feeling.
Not quite so on the next track where the intro sounds more like re-used A-Ha than any great re-invention. Referencing Papillon, the story of Henri Charriere’s 14 years in jail, Smith seems over-happy about his ‘kicks like a sleep twitch’ lyric which doesn’t feel at home in the song and makes it very hard to understand what he’s about. The guitars have been banished again but the plastic sounds that replace them are a little too remedial and lacking a new take – and this rings true as you continue through. You can hear echoes of former ’80s glory (Talk Talk in -You Don’t Know Love’) but, infuriatingly, this is the sound of other bands and not the hallmark of Editors. These issues lie in the stripping out of the live rock sound but it’s not their re-invention that the issue is here, it’s the lack of creativity that it’s carried out with.
It could be that we’re getting used to things, or the electronics are a little more underplayed but -The Boxer’ is a slow and subtle pleasure, this album’s -Love Is Blindness’, perhaps (as we’re talking re-invention). Smith’s baritone voice still sounds bold and dominant though has more of a foil in the guitars. Perhaps it’s too heavy for these loops and sounds.
One beautiful bit of Editors DNA was the simple song titles on The Back Room – almost all just one word. Now we’re asked to take the song title -Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool’ seriously. More pedestrian synth sounds and disappointment, which was the first impression of this song gleaned from the Jools Holland appearance a few weeks back. -Racing Rats’ it is not.
In wanting to love, or at least understand, what the band are trying to do with their sound we can only see that they have put the guitars and drumsticks away and replaced them with a set of parts recycled from a whole decade of things you have heard before. The creative recession may have set into the ’80s revival. While there’s still that big Editors sound splayed across this album and a third album change of direction is a brave and noble thing to try, this change should push us and the music forward yet for most of this album it’s just looking back. The risk of change is offset by the safety of the new sounds added. What sounds deliciously new on paper seems to be mostly the sound of nostalgia when put into practice. As the director Jean-Luc Goddard once said, “it’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to”.