Posted by: Jeff | September 10, 2010

Album Review: Interpol – Interpol

Interpol burst on the scene in 2002 with an outstanding LP that stands today as one of the finest debut albums in modern alternative.  Turn on the Bright Lights is an immediately affecting album that packs an incredible amount of emotional content in as few notes as possible.  The restrained instrumentation – at times only a single repetitive guitar note cutting through the icy ambiance – is a very distinctive sound that is now a hallmark of an album that could never be wholly re-created.

To Interpol’s great credit, this is a fact that the band seems to acknowledge, having chosen to go a very different direction on their second and third albums.  Despite the stunning originality of the first album, and the departure the band took with their second, Interpol has never been able to avoid comparisons.  The dark baroque instrumentation overlaid with deep mumbled brooding lyrics led to claims of Joy Division replication, and the later move to more upbeat dance-rock only served to complete the comparison to the evolution Joy Division took in the wake of Ian Curtis’ death and the band’s re-emergence as New Order in the 1980s.

Though these comparisons are of course to bands that have provided inspiration to thousands of would-be rockers over the past thirty years, they tend to give Interpol short shrift as a band that treads old ground.  You can tell that this bothers Paul Banks and company, as they’ve made an effort to shake off these comparisons – to leave icy melancholy behind and cut dancy, edgy numbers like “Evil” and “The Heinrich Maneuver”.  Yet the comparisons persist, and the band’s popularity began to wane with the critically-underwhelming Our Love To Admire.

Ever conscience of their fan’s clamoring for another album like Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol took notice and hinted that the 2010 album would be a true return to brooding form.  A short pre-album tour debuted tracks “Barricade” and “Lights” – both of which summon the dark pathos of the best moments of TOTBY, but with a fuller, more heavy-handed feel.  Indeed, while the new album is clearly intended to retread and plumb Interpol’s old stomping ground, the new album never quite recaptures what made TOTBY one of the best albums of the 2000s.

Gone is the icy restraint of 2002, replaced by the full force of a wall of sound.  “Lights” perhaps comes closest to the feel and emotive impact of classic tracks like “The New”, “Stella Was a Diver”, and “PDA” – the single guitar line emerging from the dark echoes the distinctive signature sound that Interpol rode to critical success.  But the track builds and crescendos in a way that was only hinted at in earlier tracks – the release is palpable, harnessed by the band until the last possible moment, allowing Banks to crow confidently “That’s why I hold you” repetitively over a pretty raucous accompaniment – a wall of sound with enough going on beneath the surface to keep your interest over multiple listens.

Unfortunately, this high point on the self-titled album – and indeed, it marks a high point that any band can be proud of achieving – stands alone on an album that feels more like a desperate effort to retread old ground than a mastery of past material.  Lead track “Success” never really goes anywhere, despite an interesting drum backing, “Memory Serves” gets lost in some awkward backing vocals, and much of the back half of the album (from “Malaise” to “The Undoing”) just fails to grab the listener.  It’s definitely an Interpol record, and in addition to “Lights”, “Summer Well”, “Barricade”, and “Try It On” are solid tracks that feel at home in Interpol’s catalogue.  While not gems by any means, they are solid efforts with catchy hooks that show Interpol is still a band capable of writing evocative mood music that feels equal part mopey and aggressive.

This self-titled LP is a good addition to the Interpol catalogue, but for those fans hoping for an iconic addition to an iconic band’s discography, it’s a bit disappointing.  And for those casual listeners who have not yet waded into the music Interpol has to offer – well, I recommend finding another swimming hole.

Interpol – Lights

Interpol – Barricade

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Responses

  1. I never really got into Interpol to be honest, just listened to a few tracks from afar. But now def not going back…sad news for Interpol lovers (still love his voice though)

    • Hmm, if you’ve never really gotten into the band, you should listen to Turn on the Bright Lights all the way through just once. I think you’ll probably change your mind. Antics was also a pretty awesome album. This just wasn’t their best effort.

  2. […] discussed the new Interpol album elsewhere, but this is one of the best tracks from the new LP.  Combining the dark atmospherics of early […]


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