Editors: Awash in Change

Music Features

Tom Smith just can’t help it. For three albums now with his Gothic-hued British quartet Editors—2005’s chiming debut The Back Room, the dark-textured An End Has a Start in 2007, and 2009’s Kraftwerk-meets-Sisters-of-Mercy In This Light and on This Evening—the frontman has crooned in a sepulchral moan so deep and ominous it could give the Addams Family’s butler Lurch himself the harpsichord creeps. It’s so spooky, in fact, that it’s difficult to imagine him singing “Happy Birthday” to either of his two young sons with BBC DJ Edith Bowman—Rudy, 5, and newborn Spike—without the kids recoiling in “Help, mommy!” fear. Considering this scenario, the man chuckles, low and menacing. “I guess my natural singing voice is a baritone, and that lends a certain, um, sinister edge to whatever you’re saying,” he intones. “Even if it’s ‘Happy Birthday’ or something else more cheery. But I’ve tried to do that a lot less on this record—I’ve been slightly more ambitious with the way I’m singing.”

The album in question—Editors’ stunning new fourth salvo, The Weight of Your Love—is positively awash in change, the kind that may shock some longtime listeners. Gone are past texture-minded producers like Flood and Garret “Jacknife” Lee; the set was tracked in far-off Nashville during a six-week studio stint with Jacquire King, after initial attempts with Flood failed. And the reason they failed, Smith believes, was a downward-spiraling loss of chemistry with guitarist Chris Urbanowicz, an inventive stylist who had always played Robin to Smith’s band-leading Batman. In a difficult career move, Smith, bassist Russell Leetch and drummer Ed Lay agreed that—if Editors would continue—Urbanowicz had to go. So they effectively axed their axeman a few weeks before their Tennessee sessions began and brought in two new members to fill his shoes, guitarist Justin Lockey and keyboardist Elliott Williams.

Smith often looked to movies for inspiration—early Top 10 UK single “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors” was rooted in the cult classic Intacto, and his Twilight soundtrack submission “No Sound But the Wind” (basically just Smith moaning solo at the piano, and possibly the group’s most arresting song) was conjured up from the cinematic version of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic The Road. “But I don’t think I’ve been watching that many films this time around,” the vocalist swears. “Through the turbulent times that we had with the band and the things that we went through, we’ve just been working really hard, and it’s been taking ages. So I don’t feel like films have informed this record—these songs are kind of all love songs, of a type. Or, uh, my attempts at writing songs about love.”

Which, of course, sound downright spine-tingling. The disc opens with “The Weight,” a bass-driven processional that builds into the sonic approximation of a chanted black mass, over which Smith—sounding like Frankenstein’s monster, pondering his own lab-slab creation—forlornly notes “I’m a lump of meat/ With a heartbeat/ Electricity/ Restarts me/ Strike down/ On me.” The album proceeds through a galloping Leetch/Lay showcase called “Sugar” (with Smith offering his paramour the dubious praise of “You’re the light from another world…and it breaks my heart to love you”), then the clanging Echo-and-the-Bunnymen-ish “At Ton of Love,” in which Smith muses “I lit a match in Vienna tonight/ It caused a fire in New York/ Where is my self control?” There’s a sparse, symphonic ballad, “Nothing,” and a loping track that borders on classic country, “The Phone Book,” wherein the singer assures a lover that “I’m here to watch your heart/ It’s been faulty from the start/ I’m the rip in your chest.” Before you can ring for the nurse, Dr. Smith has jolted everything back to life with two Joy Division-jagged anthems, “Formaldehyde” (key line: “Would you butcher my love/ To understand it?”) and the gear-grinding “Hyena,” whose chorus feels more like a command: “Laugh with me, hyena!/ Laugh with me now!” Weight closes with a reverent piano/drum march, “Bird of Prey,” containing the inovocation “Every lie you’ve ever been sold/ The greatest story ever told/ A circling bird of prey/ Above a church on a Sunday.”

“Bird of Prey” might sound rose-window sacred. But it isn’t, Smith sighs. “Because religion is not an important thing in my life—I guess love is the only thing that matters, really. So that’s the kind of imagery that I found interesting to say that—the greatest story ever told, you know? It’s not for me.” Pause. Another sigh. “It’s just not for me.”

”Formaldehyde” was sparked from the work of a female artist who made exhibit pieces from dissected animal hearts. “She said she was trying to show what love was, using very scientific means,” he says of why her work intrigued him. “So my song is again a love song. It’s basically me saying ‘I’m yours—do what you want with me.’ The imagery is bloody and graphic, but I get a kick out of turning that into a love song.”

Smith also enjoys a bit of the old fire and brimstone—his lyrics are often at the mercy of inclement weather, like storms, hail, lightning, punishing sheets of rain. “Stuff that makes you small can be good, you know?” he says. “But we like drama in our music, from the lyrics straight through to the musicality of the songs, as well. And hey—weather affects us all.” He insists that there’s nothing remotely political on Weight; he never once glanced outside the metaphorical window during its conception. “When I write, I find a quiet spot and I let my imagination get carried away with itself. And they’re not things that I talk about in everyday life at all—it just comes out in the music,” he adds. “Even in the band, we don’t really talk about the lyrics. That’s kind of seen as my thing, and they let me say what I want to say.”

Will listeners exit the latest Editors exercise spiritually uplifted or scared shitless? Smith rumbles out another threatening laugh. He’s not sure. “But the reason we called it The Weight of Your Love is because relationships can also be fucked up and destructive, and even if you are in love, it can be a burden,” he concludes, cryptically. “So this is just me kind of realizing that, that even though that closeness or intimacy with a certain person is a destructive thing, or something that you struggle to carry, without it? You’re worse off, anyway!”

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