Now veteran purveyors over gloom and doom, Birmingham’s Editors have always been – if nothing else – divisive. Opinion over their Joy Division inspired rock drama has been split down the middle from basically day one. It’s a divide that’s haunted their music throughout their career, the band feeling as though they’re seeking balance between the grim sound they want to produce the praise and criticism they’ve received. An initial glance over the seething naked bodies on the cover of Violence though, and there’s a sense of that journey continued. The darkness, the broodiness and the taking themselves just a little too seriously. But have a listen, and for an album called Violence, there isn’t much, well…violence. Full of joyful pop explosions, pulsing rhythms and hooks that are catchy as hell, it actually feels remarkably upbeat for an Editors album; and that often really works.
It’s in these moments that Violence shines. The first glimpse comes with the U2 inspired arena rock of opener ‘Cold’. “You were waiting for elation, like it would fall out of the sky” lead singer Tom Smith wails amid strutting beats and infectious riffs that vie relentlessly with the “don’t you be so cold” catchiness of its hook chorus. The restless build and explosion of ‘Hallelujah (So Low)’ provides moments of exhilaration while ‘Magazine’ is a deserving lead single that will be stuck in your head for days. Meanwhile ‘Darkness at the Door’ sees these guys writing a proper 80s rock tribute anthem that The Killers would be proud of. It’s synth explosions, “ooh ooh oohs” and uncharacteristically optimistic lyrics (“some friends are worth the fight” – even if that friend is darkness) and atmosphere make it a peak.
But if chaos and discord denote violence, then this is certainly at times a violent album in myriad manner of unintended ways. For all the powerful highs, it’s steeped with an unevenness of intent and delivery that at times makes it an unfortunately jarring ride. It’s something that, perhaps fittingly, afflicts the title track most clearly. There’s a stop-start nature to the song that never lets the big “baby, we’re nothing but violence” pop hook of its chorus carry its momentum. It sounds like three songs in one, the seams clear as day as it shudders into its bridge before making way for an unnecessarily out-of-place electronic outro. ‘Nothingness’ suffers from a similarly mismanaged balance between subtle electronic verses and a big, pop chorus; while closer ‘Belong’ meddles with its formula a little too much, distracting from the classic Editors sustain of its dark and gloomy atmosphere and descending into the melodramatic.
It’s this melodrama that has felt at the core of Editors’ divisive reaction. Some revel in Smith’s over-the-top nihilism amid relentless gravitas while to others its simply too much. Violence is often guilty of the latter. Smith “waits in line for nothingness” and walks “streets paved with souls” as his “bones lay with dust”. While the “ash and charred remains of the country” of ‘No Sound But the Wind’ lights up a nice enough melody with all the sunshine of a Cormac McCarthy novel (at least one in particular). Smith’s baritone invites inevitable comparison to the National, a band who have matured in their moodiness over time in a way Editors are still struggling to do. Change, experimentation and growth is no bad thing and there are new and exciting moments that shine here, but six albums in and it sounds like Editors are still searching for a voice they probably should have found by now.