Days after the release of Anton Corbjin’s film about Joy Divison, comparisons with the majestic Mancunian gloom-merchants again breathe down Editors’ necks. This time, however, as the Birmingham band begin a three-night stand at Brixton Academy, it’s more by coincidence than design.
The ghost of Joy Division dogs Editors’ every step. It is partly their doing, since Tom Smith’s baritone strains after the dolorous conviction of the late Ian Curtis, but also the result of journalistic shorthand. Take Editors’ grainy, intense atmospherics, their post-industrial aesthetic (the backdrop tonight is a skeletal close-up of a gasometer) and their regimented yet twitchily danceable drumbeats and, well, the headline writes itself. Joy Division were the elephant in The Back Room, Editors’ 2005 debut album – even if Smith’s fourpiece pay them little mind.
Now one of Britain’s biggest bands, Editors have always insisted that Elbow and Echo and the Bunnymen are greater influences. On their second album, An End Has a Start, which entered the UK charts at number one in July, they strive for epic, triumph-over-adversity anthems in the manner of a higher-octane Coldplay – the Coldplay who strove for the epic grandeur of early U2 – and achieve their goal with uncomfortably uniform ease.
Tearing into their set with bracing speed, there is barely a pause between current songs “An End Has a Start” and “Bones” and two older tracks, “Bullets” and “Blood”. Chris Urbanowicz’s guitar has a trebly, soaring peal that initially sends chills down the spine. But when that is the default mode, its insistence becomes oppressively cold.
The taut scuttle of “Blood” and the propulsive urgency of “Munich”, still their best song, are hammered out superbly. Smith is a beseeching, if rather hammy front man, and his sincerity on their most emotive numbers, “The Weight of the World” and “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors”, inspired by personal bereavement, is beyond doubt. But there is something one-paced and workman-like about Editors. They might look through the glass darkly, but what they see – that “Every little piece of your life/will mean something to someone” – is dispiritingly bland. Nobody ever said that about Joy Division.