I have always been drawn to cinematic, sprawling rock albums. Any band can technically play an arena, but few have the musical firepower to fill up the space. Only a select group of musicians can fit into this category, such as U2 or Radiohead. It isn't about volume. It is about depth. When the UK's Editors were introduced to our shores via their debut, The Back Room, I didn't expect that they would fit into such a category. In fact, the album itself did not, but their live show was a whole other story. On stage, Editors are monstrous, with a sound that can take your breath away.
For their sophomore album, An End Has A Start, producer Garett "Jacknife" Lee was able to help the band capture that enormous live sound in the studio. This is exactly the album that I was hoping to hear from these guys. From start to finish, the band has shown growth in musicianship as well as refined songwriting by frontman Tom Smith. Within the opening seconds of "Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors," we are treated to something new from Editors: dynamics. It kicks off with confident drumming by Ed Lay, which is quickly joined by Smith's vocals and some piano. Then just seconds later, we hear guitarist Chris Urbanowicz let loose on a beautiful wall of guitar. It is explosive, catching the listener totally off guard. The song then swells into a stunning chorus, one that sends chills down your spine. Now THIS is Editors. Once you get to the crashing drums towards the end, the band pushes even further with a church choral style vocal section that sends this track into orbit. This is only track number one.
Losing no momentum whatsoever, "An End Has A Start" takes the pop-rock formula we were introduced to on The Back Room, but taken up several notches. Smith's vocals are stronger than ever, belting out "Someone hit the light cuz there's more here to be seen / When you caught my eye I saw everywhere I'd been / And want to go." The production of "Jacknife" Lee is felt just a bit on this, as he smoothed out the sound of the drums, placed layer upon layer of guitars, building up to a mountain of sound that never veers out of control. There is a lot going on, but it remains clean and focused. This should be a smash hit here in the US.
"The Weight Of The World" comes along at the perfect moment, giving us a bit of a breather from the frantic pace of the title track. Urbanowicz's guitar has quite a bit of similarity to that of U2's The Edge on this, strumming a blazing speed during certain moments. The song takes an interesting turn at nearly two minutes in, where it breaks to nothing but keys and Smith's vocals. Then the steady beat builds up to a soaring crescendo of guitars hits perfectly as he sings "love replaces fear."
Picking the tempo back up is "Bones," led by the shimmering guitars of Urbanowicz. Once the intro passes, the driving bass of Russell Leetch pushes through to the front. The bass is slightly reminiscent to that of Peter Hook, as it takes on much more of the lead melody during sections of the track. When the song pauses for just a moment, as Smith croons "bones starved of flesh surround your aching heart," a wave of guitars come crashing down, almost burying the vocals for the remainder of the song.
With An End, Editors have embraced space, allowing their songs to slowly grow rather than beginning with an abrupt start. "When Anger Shows" takes its time, starting with haunting keys and a simple piano progression as Lay's drums slowly fade in. It is his drumming that is really intriguing throughout this song, as his beats at times are double the actual tempo of the song. His drumming makes for a cool effect, especially when everything lines up at the chorus. It adds a bit of anticipation for the big conclusion, as Smith tells the listener "I need you to tell me it's ok."
There is a passion in Smith's vocals that is felt throughout the entirety of the album, but at certain moments he pushes himself even further. This occurs during "The Racing Rats," a fairly straightforward Editors rock track that crashes down at the bridge, when he unleashes "Come on now / You knew you were lost / But you carried on anyway / Oh come on now / You knew you had no time / But you let the day drift away." There is an edge to his voice that we've only heard on stage up until this point.
"Push Your Head Towards The Air" is by far one of the strongest moments on the album. The quiet strumming of an acoustic guitar and some gentle chords on the piano meet a solo military snare. Editors take there time with this one, and the payoff is so worth it. Layers are added, tossing in some strings and ghostly keyboards, and then at nearly the three-minute mark it happens. The downtempo beat gains in intensity, while Urbanowicz rains down beautifully distorted guitars that make me think of the conclusion to Radiohead's "Blow Out." During this part, Leetch's bass is fuzzed out a la the more intense songs from Sigur Ros. When the string section joins in this fascinating noisy passage, it is simply brilliant. With a song this huge, the band slowly eases us back down, as Smith's humming fades into quite echoed keys.
In a wise decision for the track listing, Editors pick up the pace just a bit with "Escape The Nest." This mid-tempo rocker includes one of the most explosive portions of the album. The chorus moves forward with the steady cymbal crashing and drum beat of Lay, the guitars rocket into the stratosphere, as does Smith's vocals. You feel like there is really no way Editors can push it any further, again showing their live intensity finally captured onto tape. Even at their most bombastic and cinematic, Editors never lose their pop sensibilities. As dramatic as this track may be, the lead guitar and vocal melody remain infectious and accessible.
The final two songs on An End Has A Start are the come down of this album. They've taken us to extraordinary heights on this journey, so "Spiders" and "Well Worn Hand" bring us gently back to the ground. In fact, the latter of the two is nothing more than the somber vocals of Tom Smith and a lone piano, with just a tiny few bits of guitar. As he begs for forgiveness by singing "I'm so sorry for the things that they've done / I'm so sorry about what we've all become," the piano is allowed to completely fade out. It is a simple, yet completely fitting end for this record.
Editors faced quite a bit of pressure when following up their debut, The Back Room. They have returned with an album that harnesses the excitement and vastness of their live sound, and it is unbelievably good. An End Has A Start is a bit more polished and a whole lot bigger than its predecessor, showing a band that has come into their own. Coldplay had their A Rush Of Blood To The Head, Radiohead had The Bends, and now Editors have An End To A Start.
"Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors"