Since the tragic death of Ian Curtis, there has been a void that has yet to be filled. Yeah, I know New Order merely continued with the musical direction that Joy Division started. But what happened to the sound of midnight heard on Joy Division’s two legendary records? That same sound that was the soundtrack for every misunderstood teen, dressed in black, listening to “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” A nation of Goths still yearn for a deep haunting vocal to descend deeper in a sound that echoes the feeling where hope and despair eventually collide.
With the arrival of bands like New York’s Interpol and their magnificent debut Turn out the Bright Lights, the legacy of Ian Curtis was finally finding a foundation across the Atlantic. During Interpol’s three year pause after Antics, a UK band appeared to pick up where their New York counterparts left off. With their stellar debut The Back Room, The Editors relit the flame once sparked by Joy Division. Instead of running away from the Curtis legacy as Interpol was prone to do, Editors embraced it, musically at least, and thanks to support from bands like U2, became the indie darlings of 2006.
I was introduced to The Editors by an old co-worker of mine, Slobodan, the Import Buyer at the Lincoln Park Tower Records in Chicago. I used to work the late shift with Slobodan and he would sneak a few imports on the in-store play, which is how I discovered and subsequently bought records by Richard Hawley, among others. The Editors’ debut was one such album, and it would never fail that someone would always come up and dubiously ask “is this a new Joy Division song, you’re playing?” And they would eventually purchase the very expensive import edition of The Back Room. I thought that The Back Room was an impressive debut, thanks to the exposure from Slo’. I loved the song “Bullets,” with its chorus of “You don’t need this disease.” that even Curtis would adore. It was merely the spark that is set aflame on their superior follow-up An End Has a Start.
In spite of the strong influence, The Editors are not a Joy Division clone. They have their own distinctive sound that begins but doesn’t end with the Curtis comparisons. Tom Smith’s vocals and lyrics reflect Ian’s, but Smith has his own unique vocal flavor. What I find striking about Smith’s voice is the hints of hope in his lyrics, like “Every little piece of your life will mean something to someone” from “The Weight of the World,” a lighter side that was absent from albums like Closer.
An End Has a Start has an explosive sound that should make The Editors international icons. It starts off with the “Bullets”-esque “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors.” “Someone turn me around,” Tom sings, “Can I start this again?” as guitarist Chris Urbanowicz’s lightning riffs carry the song into a fiery atmosphere that would impress even The Edge. The band has a grander sound on this outing, and to borrow from a Spinal Tap cliché, they definitely go to eleven.
To me “Smokers” is more than a crank `em up indie rock jam—I connect to this song on another level. It reminds me of a very frightening and unhappy time for me when I was living in Chicago. Right after Halloween a year and a half ago, I had a recurring illness that I thought was turning fatal—yes, I actually thought that I was going to die. Hearing Smith sing, “Say goodbye to everyone/You have ever known/ You are not gonna see them ever again,” I’m reminded of the moment I sat there in the hospital room, scared and alone, pondering my mortality. The events of that night changed me and inspired the choices that I made soon after. This song reflects that moment when death stares you in the face and challenges you to live your life to the fullest. The coda, however, is my favorite part of the song: “We’ve all been changed/from what we were/Our broken parts/Smashed off the floor” When I hear “Smokers” it takes me back to all that I have faced in the past year and a half, but I’d do it all again to be where I am today. What a way to begin an album! It made me want to break out a pack and light one up—it was that intense and stimulating. Editors impress early, but Start gets even better.
Next up is the title track, which starts off with the optimistic lyric “I don’t think it’s going to rain today… there’s an angel on the way.” It grabs you from the opening chords, and Tom Smith’s voice carries you as you follow him through a journey of darkness and light with a blend of sincerity and power. And the album doesn’t stray from the promise laid down from the two opening tracks. There’s not a weak track on Start. The atmospheric introduction and taut post-punk drum and bass line on “When Anger Shows” is another highlight. The song climbs into arena rock territory as Smith sings his plea “I need you to tell me its okay” over Urbanowicz’s thunderous guitar riffs.
There are some surprises, especially achingly beautiful piano ballad “Well Worn Hand,” which closes the album. A sparse arrangement with Tom Smith’s vocal set to only distant keys echoes a Coldplay-like number that ends the album in a mournful yet established tone. Worry not with the Coldplay comparisons, though, as Smith sings “I don’t want to go out on my own anymore,” still displaying the rhythmic shadows that we have now come to expect from The Editors.