It would be nice to say Editors have come a long way since being mockingly referred to as “Boy Division.”
It would be nice to say Editors have come a long way since being mockingly referred to as “Boy Division” on their moody, Interpol-lite 2005 debut The Back Room, but it would also be a stretch of the truth. Violence, album number six for the Brit rockers, is a sleek body of work that finds the group solidifying their sound. But that sound is still derivative and unexciting.
If you had to chart their sonic evolution over the last 13 years, it would just be a laundry list of better bands they were echoing. The Joy Division influence never left, despite being minimized, but along the way, they’ve transitioned slightly into occupying a less saccharine approximation of the U2/Coldplay arena rock area. It’s fitting, especially for a group so successful on the road, but it’s no less middling an identity.
Violence sharpens and strengthens the songwriting and production of their previous two outings with a set of songs that are confident more than they are impressive. The tracks with the most moxie are the ones that flirt most with their love for electronic music, a lively and welcome addition to the band’s repertoire. Second single “Hallelujah (So Low)” begins with plaintive guitar strumming before giving way to a slinky hook and raucous synths that wouldn’t have been out of place on the soundtrack for The Matrix. Frontman Tom Smith avails himself nicely on the track, displaying more personality and verve than most of the band’s discography, shuffling his maudlin lyrical content into new cadences.
But elsewhere, his attempts at a Chris Martin-esque anthemic posture hold back otherwise interesting compositions. “Darkness at the Door” has an enviable swing to it utterly marred by a cringeworthy cheesiness that makes the song feel like a bad parody. These two songs comprise the opposite extremes of the project, with almost everything else falling squarely into a middle ground that feels “just fine” at best. The b-sides are all largely indistinguishable smatterings of impassioned instrumentation colliding with bland lyricism and boring hooks.
“Counting Spooks,” a throbbing, danceable cut, suggests an alternate version of the album where they leaned entirely in the direction of nightclubs and left the festival bait singalongs to bands with more genuine charisma. It’s a more fun, gripping tune than they’ve come up with in ages, but it really just underscores how stagnant the bulk of the songs are. “Nothingness” comes close to figuring this out, with one of the album’s only compelling hooks, but even it remains too sullen at times.
When The Back Room was first released, it was hard to imagine this band lasting as long as they have, but any inklings of longevity in those halcyon days must have been tinged with the possibility that they would eventually find their own voice and evolve into something special. Alas, they’ve continued to grind out their own semblance of relevance by noodling around the same set of modes for over a decade. It’s highly unlikely that, this late in the game, they’ll ever do much of anything else.