For a long time, many British pop bands and artists followed a clockwork-like cycle. They would become sensations in Europe, find some crossover success here in the States and while touring here, become even more immersed and enamored with American music. And as a result, their next album ends up suffused with these influences. There’s a raft of examples: Young Americans, Sandinista!, The Joshua Tree/Rattle & Hum, Give Out But Don’t Give Up and Blur among them.
Of course, these are all pre-Internet ubiquity examples. Once burgeoning musicians became a Google search away from any album they wanted, they could let more influences feed into their own art. So, when a UK band reverts back to this preexisting formula, it stands out as a fairly obvious throwback move.
When it comes to the Birmingham, England superstars Editors, though, this type of musical regression is what the band is known for. The group’s first three albums were pretty blatant in their reliance on the moves of their homegrown post-punk and shoegazer forebears. What came out was still pretty impressive, especially on their tense and memorable singles like “Munich” and “Papillion.”
That said, maybe we should have anticipated that the band would head for Nashville to record album No. 4. In fact, frontman Tom Smith has been vocal about the influence of Americana and Scott Litt’s production work for R.E.M. on his new songs.
The ideas behind Weight have some potential, but Editors can’t seem to pull them off successfully. The album is recorded with the same dry, steely quality that marked albums like Document and Green, but often misses the warmth that would burst through those two classics. And the dramatics of groups like The National and Bon Iver end up providing a weird, syrupy core to the strings and vocal-only centerpiece “Nothing” and the slow-motion sentiments of “What Is This Thing Called Love.”
The quintet doesn’t completely eschew the itchy pulse that pushed their last two albums to No. 1 in the UK, and, mixed with this down-South vibe, results in some of the disc’s best work. “Sugar” is a clean, bracing shot of fuzzy throb and “Formaldehyde” has the fine bombast that made 2007’s An End Has at Start so memorable. Those two songs, and a handful of other decent cuts, just don’t go far enough, which feels like a testament to the departure of founding guitarist Chris Urbanowicz.
Everyone in the Editors camp is quick to point out that it was an amicable split based on differences in their “musical future,” but knowing that, one wonders if they would’ve gone on this American holiday at all. Or if they would have dared be as overt as they are on the weak acoustic folk ramble “The Phone Book.” Urbanowicz’s guitar and keyboard lines were often the live wire that kept even the band’s most eye-rolling moments palatable. It would have been thrilling to hear what sparks of energy he could have brought to Weight.