It seems a long time ago that Editors burst onto the scene, riding the crest of the post-punk revival wave with ‘The Back Room’. They may not inspire the same fervour as they once did, but they’ve forged a career and maintained a substantial fan base by making albums which do at least sound distinct from one another. While ‘On This Light and On This Evening’ may have been divisive, it certainly wasn’t a retread of old ground, and 2015’s ‘In Dream’ again moved away from the (U2 shadowing) territories of its predecessor. And credit where it’s due, this doesn’t sound like anything they’ve done before either. Although it would perhaps be better if it did.
‘Violence’ – their sixth album – was produced by Leo Abrahams (Wild Beasts, Florence & The Machine, Frightened Rabbit) and Editors with additional production from Benjamin John Power (Blanck Mass, Fuck Buttons), and it marks a return to the more electronic territory of their third album. Only, whereas ‘In This Light’ navigated the dark territories of Depeche Mode (the overblown ‘You Don’t Know Love’, which was more of a bad Associates rip-off notwithstanding), ‘Violence’ is all about the grooves. Editors go disco? Actually, pretty much.
Tom Smith is quoted as saying, in a R1 interview with his wife, “We had a lot of help from a guy called Blanck Mass, who makes very brutal electronic music. So when it’s electronic, it's very electronic. But then when it’s guitar-y, it’s very band driven. I think we’ve managed to find the balance of those two things better than we have done before. Over the years, we’ve gone from backwards between more band-orientated sounding records and more electronic records. I think there’s a balance here between melody and brutality that I don’t think we’ve managed to get before.”
There’s a chasmic disparity between the belief and the objective reality. There’s nothing brutal about it, that’s for certain. Listening to ‘The Back Room’ or even ‘In This Light’ you’d never think that at some point in the future The Scissor Sisters might be a remotely fitting comparison. Mostly, it’s Bastille with disco beats, One Republic with baritone vocals. The songs are ‘Sunday Brunch’ advert-cut fillers, no more so than lead single ‘Magazine’. Essentially, ‘Violence’ is bloodless, without guts or punch. Put simply, it feels like a mainstream chart album.
There are some brooding moments, like the piano-led ballad ‘No Sound But the Wind’ and there are some flickers of vintage Editors, as represented by… actually, no. Comb every inch of the album, and there’s precious little. ‘Halleluja (So Low)’ is the album’s pinnacle by miles. The guitars are more prominent, and it’s got a lot more bite than the bulk of the album, but it’s hardly ‘Blood’ or ‘Munich’.
I would love to have been able to report that I was pleasantly surprised, that ‘Violence’ is simultaneously a progression and a return to form. I desperately wanted to like it. But the fact is that is sounds, and feels, like a last-ditch attempt to score mainstream radio airplay and maximum royalties. It’s tame. And it’s really quite depressing – not musically, but in terms of the decline it represents. Not so much violence as a playful pinch or flick on the arm.