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The Editors’ mysterious music strikes a chord

‘It seems to be easier to write sad songs than happy songs’ says Tom Smith
/ Source: The Associated Press

Following a slow, steady climb to the top after releasing their 2005 debut in England, the Editors are trying to repeat that success in the United States.

The Birmingham, England-based group’s album “The Back Room” made a huge splash across the pond and is enjoying a healthy buzz stateside.

Maybe it’s because of their spirited live shows.

Maybe it’s the result of an overly energetic front man who borders on the seemingly spastic while somehow retaining total control, drawing comparisons to Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

Maybe it’s due to an expansive sound that transports the club-sized audience to the halls of an arena.

Or maybe the music simply connects with a lot of people.

“There was a build [in the U.K.] from constant touring and people slowly realized who we are. [‘The Back Room’] went to No. 2 six months after it was released,” said lead singer Tom Smith before a recent show in Chicago. “Coming here, we’re starting again. In places like Chicago and New York, the word is out on us and the crowd is pretty big for a new band. But in other places there’s a lot of hard work to be done in America.”

The band has drawn comparisons to early U2, Echo & the Bunnymen and Joy Division as well as Interpol. Smith’s voice has a surprisingly uncanny resemblance to that of Ian Curtis, the Joy Division singer who hung himself 25 years ago: deep, brooding and sexy.

But ask Smith and he’ll tell you that R.E.M. and Radiohead were major forces driving his early musical development; Joy Division was never part of his musical repertoire growing up.

He thinks the Curtis comparison only comes from the deep voice. But then there’s the question of lyrics.

“I’ve always been into melancholic music. It seems to be easier to write sad songs than happy, happy songs,” he said as he ironically trailed off into laughter. “The tone of the record is dark, but there are a lot of optimistic lyrics. People who love our band see both sides of the lyrics.”

On songs such as “All Sparks” and “Blood,” Smith sings about past ills and paints his pain with imagery and metaphor, but he declines to offer any backstories.

“With songs, I try to slightly detach myself, but some do have specific events that inspired the lyrics,” he said. “The rest of the song is padded out because you can use words as imagery. I’m not too interested in going into specifically what happened there.”