Rock music has always been taken more seriously when it echoes out of the darkness. The darkness (not the comedy spandex clad hair-rockers) presumes a certain authenticity; that the artist has suffered to bring you the fruits of their troubled soul. That the music has been agonized over in low-lit rooms with every note of pained vocal and every jolt of shrill guitar loaded with meaning and weight. The truth is, it’s more often than not, all a bit of a con. Drinking cider on the wall of the cemetery and reciting Nick Cave lyrics hardly means that you’re some sort of super interesting, tortured artist-type worth listening to. So it comes as a relief to find that, while they might dress in regulation black and inject the 11 songs here with no small dose of Joy Division style panic and pain, Birmingham’s Editors are really just a bloody good pop band at heart. Their songs resound with creeping paranoid lyrics but their pitch-black soundscapes are cracked with light.
It seems like they’re onto something with their enticingly packaged pop as well. The Back Room, despite being out for some six months, currently occupies an envied position in the upper echelons of the UK charts, and in “Bullets”, “Blood” and “Munich”, Editors have delivered a handful of unlikely indie-disco floorfillers. Over in the US, they’re attracting a Franz Ferdinand size buzz. Gigs have been crawling with snooping record company bods, and tickets have sold out left, right and centre. It’s actually a bit silly really, because, as far as I remember, there have been no publicity seeking antics, hyperbole filled statements or celebrity girlfriends to propel the band onto the brink of stardom just some old fashioned touring, word of mouth hype and a few cracking singles. And they deserve it as well, because The Back Room is a very good record indeed. Far more than a stop-gap Interpol or Joy Division-lite, Editors have made a thoughtful, expertly crafted and darkly sensuous indie-pop gem. And though nothing else on the album can quite match the intensity and brilliance of those three singles, their brooding energy is rather hard to resist.
Central to the album’s success is singer Tom Smith’s engagingly passionate baritone. The presence of Ian Curtis looms heavy in the air when he sings, and the lyrics have enough of Curtis’ taut anxiety running through them to suggest that Unknown Pleasures was a carefully studied record in the Smith household. What delivers these songs from being mere copies however, are the pop sensibilities on display. Moments of sheer excitement inform the rousing choruses in “Open Your Arms” and “Lights”, as the band touch on something that is more in debt to The Cure at their most radio-friendly than any crucifix toting Goth band. The set does suffer from something of a mid-album lull and a few songs that could be described as samey, but it is expected that a debut album is usually imperfect. It’s ultimately to the bands infinite advantage that the songs don’t parody Ian Curtis’ desolate howl from the dark, and even in their gloomiest moments, Editors never lose sight of ‘the tunes’.
Editors flirt with the darkness but they are clever enough not to be consumed by it. The Joy Division comparisons might well lazy, but listening to The Back Room, they are undeniable. Of course the band never has quite the same sense of urgency and destiny that meant a band like Joy Division were enshrined in greatness. What they do have is the panache to make brilliantly crafted and perfectly timed indie rock and roll that ensures they fit snugly into the post-Franz musical landscape. Editors offer a darker, more dangerous alternative to most of the arch nu-wave rock around. They sound like a more cynical, foreboding Bloc Party, like Franz Ferdinand with a heart. The Back Room is an assured debut album from a promising band. Greatness, for the moment, might elude them, but Editors are the real deal. The spiky guitars and swirling synth textures that make up this record are hardly visionary, but when it’s all done as effortlessly as this, it sure is exciting. Touching on desolate themes of loss and mortality and shooting them through with a sparky, almost hopeful abandon, the songs Editors have given us here are definitely worth listening to.