Mouths are wired shut. Skin hangs gaunt from flesh-starved bones. Planes simply drop out of the sky while witnesses stand shrugging, watching to see how big a hole the crash makes. And outside the terminal wards the smokers pace and fret, unaware of their own fatal irony. Death stalks us all, friends – saint or sinner – and since you can’t escape His shadow, we might as well just tear open our funeral shirts and bask in it.
Such are the visions and messages of Editors’ second album: a record as serious as cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and foot and mouth, all wrapped up in a terrorist warning note. “Realising that (death) is part of life can be amazing,” Tom Smith said of the album’s thematic conception (prompted by a spate of death and illness in his close circle). And in making a record so deeply steeped in grief, disease, tragedy and turmoil, Editors have produced one of modern rock’s bleakest artefacts. Forget 2007’s other darkest hours; this baby makes ‘Neon Bible’ sound like Cajun Dance Party covering the Ibiza hits of The Cheeky Girls. No, we must go back to the Manics’ Masterpiece Of Morbidity ‘The Holy Bible’ to find another release this unafraid to darkly dent previous chart successes. And before that? Oh yes – Joy Division.
But let’s not dwell there too long – Editors certainly have no intention to. All bands emerge aping their forebears. The best bands quickly transcend their influences though and, having shifted half a million copies of their Interpol-piggybacking debut ‘The Back Room’, that’s Editors’ primary objective here – to wriggle loose of the Curtis noose.
Heaven forbid they do it by getting cheery, mind: roping in Bloc Party producer Jacknife Lee was never going to ramp up the belly laffs; it was going to add a very modern stateliness to their already monolithic sound, plus a feral, urgent subway rattle-beat. Atop this they stoutly attempt to Do A Coldplay. Ghostly choirs! Grand Canyon guitars! Military backbeats like what used to make Hope Of The States sound like an invading army of Prussian gypsy psychopaths…
And, at first, it’s just too much. The bleakness batters you blank, the bigness blands you blind to it. ‘Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors’ rages and ravages quite brilliantly, sure; its pump-hammer beats and Christmas choir finale really do dredge serenity and salvation from lines like “Say goodbye to everyone you’ve ever known/You are never going to see them ever again” and “How can we wear our smiles/With our mouths wired shut?”. And ‘An End Has A Start’ rattles along with a scintillating vigour and violence – Tom sounding furious that life amounts to loneliness: “You came on your own/That’s how you’ll leave”. But, oh but… the plodding ‘The Weight Of The World’ greets us with a morose “Keep a light on those you love/They will leave here when you die” and lifts our spirits only as far as “Every little piece of your life will mean something to someone” – like, cheers. The Smithsy ‘Bones’ tells of “Bones, starved of flesh/Surround your aching heart/Full of love”, a brutal tale of anorexia that’s almost (almost) shocking enough to lick the vomit from the toilet bowl of Richey Edwards’ ‘4st 7lb’. And ‘The Racing Rats’ finds Tom suffering nightmare visions of disaster scenes: “If a plane were to fall from the sky/How big a hole would it leave in the surface of the Earth?”. Well, we suppose it’d be the mass of the plane multiplied by its velocity, times the amount of mutilation on board, minus…
AAAARGHH! Enough! When Editors perform these songs live, wracked with whatever pains drove Tom to write them in the first place, they’re overwhelming monsters of power and passion. Glossed out on such an unrelentingly dour-hearted record – and how it pains one to type this sentence – they sound like fucking Interpol.
Because behind the ProTools flam and deathbed dolour Editors are so much better than this, and the second half of ‘An End Has A Start’ finds them finally evolving into the new species of winged moodrockers they’ve always threatened to become. Here, at last, there’s hope – ‘Push Your Head Towards The Air’ is delicate and dizzying, a meander around Cocteau Twins Meadow that finds Tom lilting, “Don’t drown in your tears babe/Push your head towards the air”, like a proper soppy old balladeer lost in some ethereal Oz. It’s genuinely uplifting. But ‘Escape The Nest’ is the real revelation; the best Editors track to date it builds from a spooky scree to a full-on exploding space station of a chorus. “Look up through the trees to feel as small as you can”, Tom bellows, but the noise makes you feel like you could crush cathedrals beneath your boot-heel. Transcendent stuff.
With the catchy echo-pop of ‘Spiders’ wanting to be Coldplay’s ‘Trouble’ and ‘Well Worn Hand’ ending proceedings with a piano-ballad whimper where we’re yearning for a majestic bang, ‘An End Has A Start’ turns out to be a pupae album – it’s Editors stretching their sonic muscles, poking the first spindles of whatever new form they’ll take out of their gloom-rock cocoon come album three. If your mam just carked it, this record will change your life; for the rest of us it’s a mottled window on a stranger’s wake. Bring on the limbo.