Is the current postpunk revival the second or the third? Having lost count around the time Interpol hired a full-time stylist, I’ve become jaded about influences. So when The Editors’ Tom Smith rejects suggestions that he must have listened to Echo and the Bunnymen as a kid and says he preferred R.E.M., I feel justified in imagining he was probably a Cure fan but doesn’t want to admit it.
The group’s monster-selling U.K. debut, “The Back Room,” has those loud, dual guitars doing that flanging thing that The Edge from U2 made popular, with Smith declaiming clearly in a calm baritone how everything is going to be just fine. Unlike that other Smith, Robert, the one who is actually in The Cure, he doesn’t go in for trite adolescent dramatics, and, in fact, seems mismatched with the ominous lyrics. Whenever I hear the single, “Bullets,” and that oft-repeated refrain, “You don’t need this disease,” all I can hear is “You don’t need these sissies.”
We Are Scientists, who are from New York but actually sound more British than The Editors, are also into that staccato guitar sound, but more in a Smiths way than, say, a Joy Division way. “With Love and Squalor,” their debut album, strikes a cunning balance between pop anthems and tongue-in-cheek indie cool, and since there are only three Scientists, they come off as more cost-efficient than the four Editors. True to their occupational moniker, they’re nerdier, too, which may be a pose as carefully calculated as Smith’s choice of stated influences.
If you can cut through all the surface stuff, you may find two bands with more substance than they let on.