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Thursday, February 11,2010

The Editors battle the curse of the formulaic

By Alan Sculley

When the Editors finished their second album, 2007’s An End Has A Start, singer Tom Smith sensed a change was in the air for the group.

“When we finished the second record, I really felt like we had exhausted that avenue for the time being,” Smith says. “It was time to put down the guitars and focus on something else.”

Boy, did the Editors focus on something else.

In fact, few bands in recent memory have gone as far in re-imagining their sound than the Editors did on the group’s newly released CD, In This Light and On This Evening.

After two albums of moody and introspective guitar-based rock (the debut CD, The Back Room, was released in 2005), the British group has reemerged with a synthesizer-heavy electro-pop sound on the new CD that evokes comparisons to the likes of Joy Division and She Wants Revenge.

It’s a bold move, considering the sound the Editors created on their first two CDs earned the band a pair of platinum albums and made the group highly popular in the United Kingdom. And reaction to In This Light and On This Evening, which was released last fall in the UK, has drawn its share of polarizing reactions, according to Smith.

“We’ve had everything,” he says. “We’ve had many people saying it’s the best record we’ve ever made. We’ve had loads of people say, I don’t know, it’s so bad it makes them angry.”

The fact is, when the Editors began work on the new CD the band initially strapped on the guitars and took the familiar approach to creating new songs. Things ended up sounding too familiar.

“We had almost like a formula, certain things we’d do to make our songs come to life,” Smith says. “Then we kind of realized that with the third album — and that was kind of scary — it didn’t feel exciting. It felt a little like we were being formulaic and almost bor ing.”

Tellingly, it was guitarist Chris Urbanowicz that started the Editors on their path toward a new sound.

“Chris really took the bull by the horns,” Smith says. “He led by writing melodies and riffs on keyboards rather than guitars, and from that we kind of all followed.”

The new sound opened up new dimensions in the music for all four band members — Smith, Urbanowicz, bassist Russell Leetch and drummer Ed Lay.

On the rhythmic end of the songs, Lay and Leetch groove in new ways on In This Light and On This Evening, with songs like “Papillon” and “Like Treasure” taking on a dancier edge, while songs like “The Boxer” and “This House Is Full Of Noise” deal in more understated and imaginative rhythms.

“I think he [Lay] was trying to break out of that and try and make himself look at things a different way, approach his rhythms or whatever you’re doing in the band with a different mindset,” Smith says.

“I think across the nine songs, it’s actually rhythmically going somewhere different with every song really.”

As a vocalist, the new synthesizer/electronic sound helped Smith stretch in some new directions, and his rich baritone is actually more effective in this setting.

“I think with the way the new album sounds and the way these songs are made up, there are layers and layers of guitars that had been removed,” Smith says. “Even though we filled some of that space with different synthesizer parts, there was still a bigger space in these songs for my vocals to sit. I think some of the songs it’s right up close and it feels almost confrontational and a bit claustrophobic, the vocal lines and where they sit in the mix. It’s kind of a different spin on the way my voice sounds. … There are also moments on the record where I sing in falsetto. That’s the first time I’ve done that as well.”

On the whole, Smith says the band was jazzed by the shift in its instrumental focus. And unlike the previous two CDs, which were recorded instrument by instrument, the Editors recorded the basic tracks live in the studio — a move meant to bring a more human element to an electronic setting that can feel sterile.

“I think this time we were working better as a band in a room than we had ever done before,” Smith says. “That was exciting. We were very focused. Yeah, it was good.”

Whether Editors fans will be jazzed by In This Light and On This Evening may well depend on whether they like the synth-pop/electronic sound in general.

In a live setting, fans will still get a decent taste of the both new- and old-school Editors.

“The shows at the moment focus heavily on the new stuff, but when we play old songs, we still play them in a way that people will know,” Smith says. “We play them on guitar. So over the course of a whole gig, it’s a lot more varied. … Variety is the spice of life, after all.”

On the Bill: The Editors play the Ogden Theatre on Feb. 13. Show starts at 9 p.m. Ages 16 and over to enter. The Antlers and The Dig open. Tickets are $15–$20. 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. 303-832-1874

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