Interpol – Interpol

Less than a decade ago, Interpol made the big start look easy. Few groups can claim their debut as their masterpiece, let alone one of the greatest albums written in the past ten years. This Big Apple quartet, however, is one that can. And one that’s endlessly haunted by the fact. More than enough has been said already about Turn on the Bright Lights. In typical 21st century fashion, the record echoed Joy Division, it emulated U2, and, most importantly, it rocked in the most maudlin of ways. For a brief time, Interpol signified the revitalization of 70’s rock and roll, alongside The Strokes and, to some extent, Spoon.

As such, it’s difficult not to listen to Interpol’s subsequent releases without considering them in terms of their much-lauded forebear. Antics was an excellent record, even though most of the world will never come to acknowledge it, labeling it the poetic “sophomore slump.” Their major-label yawnfest Our Love to Admire suggested Interpol was heading downhill and fast. Many began to insist that Interpol needed a quick fix, and fast, to recover their rapidly diminishing credibility. So, the people at Matador put their heads together and made a decision. What better way to tell people that you’re about to make the defining album of your career than to release your token eponymous album? Cue hype storm.

It’s technically not even out and yet I can already feel Interpol’s divisive pull. Riding on the backs of singles “Barricade,” “Memory Serves,” and “Always Malaise (The Man I Am),” hardcore fans will champion the quartet’s “valiant revival.” Cynics and critics will insist that the record is bluntly minimalist (even for a post-post-punk band) and too static to hold a candle to earth-shaking movements like “PDA” and “Obstacle 1.” In a sense, they’d both be right. For the first time in over five years, Interpol has “singles,” albeit pretty terrible ones.

Frail lines like “Always/ You need me, lover/ Always/ Release me, lover” riddle this album, seeming slapstick and clichéd compared to the emotional weight carried by ones like “But it’s different now that I’m poor and aging/ I’ll never see this place again” from “Obstacle 1.” Elementary rhymes like “Estuary/ Won’t you take me” practically serve as a lyrical mockery of Interpol’s previously engaging prose. Not to mention the guitar playing. Turn on the Bright Lights wove reverbed guitars into thick clouds of symphonic power, pulling the album together in a beautifully entrancing framework of interlocking melodies. By comparison, the flimsy riffs in Interpol feel like scrapped drafts that somehow eked their way onto the record by accident. If Lil Wayne ever decided to remix Joy Division’s Closer, I could imagine it sounding something just like this.

If the corny lyrics and flaccid melodies weren’t painful enough, the pitiful attempts at emotional progression will have you screaming inside. The broken attempts at dynamic crescendos in songs like “All of The Ways,” for example, are so malformed and tacky that they go so far as to suggest that the emotionally-pulling shifts in Turn on the Bright Lights were more the product of chance than adept songwriting.  The evidence of their attempt is still there, however, and perhaps the listener’s acknowledgment of these attempts makes them successful to some degree. Vocalist Paul Banks sings “All of the ways you will make it up/ Make it up for me” with a familiar gravity that we’ve come to know him for; while he may be uncharacteristically general in this release, at least the sentiment is still tangible (Unlike Julian Casablancas, Banks has yet to succumb to Bono-it is). The critical problem now is that he’s left with nothing to convey but thesaurus rhymes and soap opera confessionals, and that alone makes these half-assed movements doubly painful.

Of course, any “comeback” album is not without its just-plain-cringe-worthy moments. The backing falsettos on “Memory Serves” are tacky enough to voice a Sesame Street sing-along. In closer “The Undoing,” Banks performs the unspeakable in terms of presumptuousness: speaking in a foreign language for no apparent reason. The Mars Volta, that was expected; The Sound of Animals Fighting, not surprising; The Arcade Fire, excusable. But Interpol? It doesn’t even contextually make sense in the song. And there’s nothing that can really be said about the first 45 seconds of “Safe Without;” they just need to be heard to be believed. FOX’s next cop drama just found its intro song.

I never knew the meaning of the word “understatement” until I thought about using the word “disappointment” to describe this album. The saddest fact about this album is the indelible evidence that the band was consciously trying on this release. They tried to make a revitalizing opus and ended up making an utter embarrassment. And the pill is made that harder to swallow because it’s obvious the band was going for the gold. The cover for Interpol unintentionally synopsizes the record to a tee: THIS is the sound of Interpol shattering themselves into black oblivion. Interpol have always sounded like an audible shadow; now it seems they’re more a shadow cast behind bright lights.

by Mason “Never thought I’d hear someone rhyme ‘estuary’ in a legit song” McGough

9 Comments

  1. The Ballad of The Ironically-Named Opening Track – Interpol [self-titled] « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Interpol – Interpol, by Mason McGough […]

  2. Deriuqer emaN said,

    To criticise the lyrics in this album whilst holding the lyrics of their previous LPs to such high acclaim is rather odd. I like Interpol, but all their albums have some pretty terrible lyrics. Roland (“He carries them all over the town, at least he tries/Oh look, it’s stopped snowing”), Public Pervert (“If time is my vessel then learning to love might be my way back to sea”) are examples from their first two albums. OLTA had many, too.

    I didn’t really read the rest, I just scanned it quickly and this jumped out.

  3. Trevor Johnson said,

    I think the point is that they’re not just bad in the face of they’re previous LPs, they’re just plain bad. In “Roland” and “Public Pervert”, there is subtext you can gather from it, but on these, they’re meaningless. The lyrics are poorly written, no matter what previous albums contained.

  4. Deriuqer emaN said,

    Sorry, I’ve just re-read what I wrote at the end of my last comment and it sounded quite mean. You took the time/effort to write out this review and I sort of threw it in your face. I don’t read any reviews in any great depth. I just try and look at the consensus.

    I can see where you’re coming from about the lyrics, but I’m going to suspend any judgement on them in this album until I can get my hands on it and listen to it for myself.

    • Trevor Johnson said,

      That’s very gentlemanly of you, and I appreciate it. I didn’t think the comment was mean-spirited or anything, just a different view.

      As for reserving judgment, I hope you’ll enjoy the album. We sure didn’t lol

  5. album of the year said,

    dude you’re so far off the mark that there’s nothing to do but quote the great William Blake on you:

    “Both read the Bible day and night, But thou read’st black where I read white.”

    • Trevor Johnson said,

      Nice to see some Blake up in the house, but would you like to elaborate as to why you disagree with Mason? (He doesn’t typically check comments, sorry)

  6. Aron said,

    I’m not saying this is the album of the year( it isn’t to make it clear). But it really is an improvement. OLTA was an Interpol album, Interpol trying to be a bigger, magnum band. This is Interpol, trying to be a bigger, magnum Interpol.

    They succeed you know, you got to let the songs get to you, they’re not the abstract shitfaced lyrics of Banks 10 years ago, they’re better. The album doesn’t even try to be the first album, doesn’t even try to please the fans. But if you’re a real Interpol-fan, this will get to you, it’s way better than OLTA. And stands on the same ground as Antics, it doesn’t fully capture TOTBL, but that’s impossible, they evolved. The fans should too, I mean, what’s listening to the same music over again, or making it again, you’ll end up being a flawed band like the modern day rolling stones

    • averyisland said,

      I have to admit, my first impressions on this album were positive. However, upon subsequent revisits I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the relative ubiquity of the lyrics on this release. I wouldn’t say they are more specific so much as they are more shallow than before. His meaning is simpler to grasp because his language is more common and simply because there’s less to grasp. Yes, Banks was abstract on TotBL, but his sentiment wasn’t hampered by that vagueness. On this release, I find that his lines, in their immediacy, are less outstanding in the literal sense. They don’t carry that post-Ian Curtis weight of subtlety they did on their debut. In fact, I find they’re rather characterless in their all-encompassing generality. Of course, this doesn’t stand on every song, but overall the lyrical development is rather bland, particularly in perspective of the album as a whole.

      Instrumentally, I would say this record is also a considerable step down, and not simply by virtue of its relative simplicity. I’m not one to condemn minimalism outright, but I feel the take here was a poor one. The guitar lines seemingly aren’t written with the intent of emphasizing a feeling of desolation as would those of a similarly-minded band like The xx. It’s evident Interpol were aiming for making a hefty album, but his telegraph guitar lines simply don’t support the weight they’re aiming for. The instrumental lack of depth, I would say, quite mirrors that of the lyrics, making for a rather shallow experience overall. But I’ll admit, Barricade is catchy.

      I hoped that clarified my original intent in writing this review. I would hate to hamper a group as inspiring as Interpol, but I feel honesty is more laudable than stalwart appraisal. We appreciate and respect your comments greatly (evident in my giving a response, haha), but I’m afraid our opinions diverge. But hey, that’s the whole point in writing reviews!

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