Sometimes the overall reception of a new album is simply a matter of context. The irony of situation for British alt-rock outfit Editors is that their ill-fated attempt at Euro-synth-rock with 2009’s In This Light and On This Evening actually puts them in a good position, because any shift in musical direction is likely to be seen as a positive move.
Enter The Weight Of Your Love, the band’s fourth studio effort. It marks a strong shift toward indie-rock, but with enough reverb space in the production value to create a sense of arena rock. Again, maybe it’s just context, but…yeah. This feels much better.
Then there’s the matter of presentation. Editors definitely put their best foot forward on first impressions; the first three songs are by far the strongest on the album. Indeed, lead-off track “The Weight” could arguably be the most solid opening cut on any of their albums so far, its magnitude measured by depth rather than loudness. After an attention-grabbing intro, it settles into a foot-stomping thump overlaid with sparse guitar riffs, a perfect backdrop for Tom Smith’s brooding vocals. “The Weight” itself is masterfully written as a song, captivating the listener from the opening lines. The follow-up tracks, “Sugar” with its rambling, distorted bass lines and spacey guitar riffs, and the straight-up rocker “A Ton Of Love,” are almost equally captivating. If we still had to buy whole albums to get the songs we like, The Weight Of Love would be worth purchasing on the merit of the first act alone.
Things do begin to unravel a bit in the middle, beginning with Smith’s ill-advised falsetto-driven vocals on “What Is This Thing Called Love.” From there, album meanders a bit through a series of tracks that aren’t necessarily bad, but are less memorable by comparison to the openers. The cause isn’t helped much by the fact that momentum suffers a bit by essentially placing three ballads back-to-back in the middle. There are still high points to look forward to like “Honesty” and “Formaldehyde,” and the record recovers a bit at the end with a nice closer, “Bird Of Prey.” While not flawless—again, putting this record into context with the last—this is still a real step in the right direction.
But let’s talk about direction for a bit, because direction (or an overall lack of it) still seems to be Editors’ weak spot. There is a greater problem at work here, and that is that one gets the feeling that four albums in, Editors still do not really seem to know who they are as a band. This impression, of course, isn’t helped by the fact that the band embraced three other monikers before settling on this one, but it’s more than just the name. The inherent problem is that even with this positive change in direction, their sound still reminds us more of other bands than it helps solidify their own identity. As evidence, take the following challenge: when you finish reading this review, go and look at a few others. Notice how many times you see the critics making comparisons to the likes of U2, Muse, Echo and the Bunnymen, and a few others. There’s a reason for that: Editors really sound a lot like all of these acts at different moments, so much so that the band’s own identity seems a bit cloudy. That, and despite the stronger indie-rock vibe, it is still nearly impossible to listen to Editors without hearing sounds that take us back to the glory days of 80s rock.
The one bright spot here—one element that could really become a signature sound for the band—is the well-defined baritone voice of Tom Smith himself. While even he at times seems to channel David Bowie, he has a distinct sound and a wide range of emotional expression that does the songs justice. The best thing the band did with this record was to bring Smith’s vocals front and center, and gear the rest of the music around that. It’s definitely the right move—there just needs to be more movement in that direction.
And so, it would be unfair of me to suggest that The Weight Of Your Love represents salvation for Editors. The record is definitely an improvement over In This Light…, and is certainly due some respect on its own merits, but it’s by no means a magnum opus. This is a band who still need to figure out their collective identity, and they haven’t quite found it yet. This album does yield some hope that they are at least on the way to doing so.