The sophomore slump is the ever-present cliché of the music industry. Many a band with a grand debut has fallen at the vicious hands of the public pressure to follow it up with something alternately glorious and different. Many of the great bands have reacted against the fanfare of their introductory efforts to produce records that represented radical musical departures from their predecessors. Interestingly, Interpol approached its debut as if it were already the band’s second record. Even the title, Turn on the Bright Lights, seemed to be a reaction to the imaginary scrutiny from fictional convertees of their phantom debut. The record was awash in resignation and shame, and the result was devastatingly sad.
Antics represents a medium step in the band’s career. The most immediately apparent trait of the album is its sonic similarity to its predecessor. The production is largely the same as on Bright Lights, featuring dense guitars and big, crisp percussion. And of course, Paul Banks’ vocals, the most distinguishable factor in any Interpol song, are still easily identifiable. No, this is not a remarkably different band from that which wrote Bright Lights.
Indeed, rather than creating a long-winded, dissonant concept album about witch hunts (Liars, I’m looking at you), Interpol has made subtle movements to flesh out and expand its trademark sound. The most obvious change hits right away: “Next Exit” features a warm (!) organ tone and an optimistic (!) guitar riff. Banks coos (as best his singing can be called “cooing”), “We ain’t going to the town / we’re going to the city / gonna trek this shit around.” It’s pretty obvious that the group has added a few emotions to its sonic palette; where once it was black or black-er, now there are shades of grey.
“NARC” is propelled by Carlos D’s jazzy bass lines, which often bounce just below the dense melody. The guitars are a bit more mobile and expressive than in Bright Lights; in the bridge before the chorus, a staccato strum and sparkling chords effervesce. The chorus itself is soaring, referring again to the nameless, faceless “she” of Banks’ lore. “Slow Hands” is very obviously different from previous Interpol material. The verse begins with a two-stepping drumbeat much like that of “Obstacle 2.” In the bridge, alternately ascending and descending scales create a palpable sense of drama. The chorus delivers in full catharsis: Banks’ voice soars over a dance-punk shuffle, achieving more of a sense of regality than most of the genre’s stars of today.
This buildup reaches its peak in “Take You on a Cruise,” Interpol’s finest song to date. A siren-like guitar slides the song into being, followed by strummed chords. Carlos D’s bass bounces into the fray, and the sound is rounded out by a fantastic martial drumbeat. Paul Banks delivers a mix of emotions, simultaneously reassuring and panicked. Throughout the record, and most obviously in this song, his voice is far less monotonic than on Bright Lights, and as a result, he is able to explore a wider range of vocal expression. The chorus is indescribably emotionally charged: “We sail today / tears drown in the wake of delight / there’s nothing like this built today / you’ll never see a finer ship in your life.” The image is perfect for the gliding delivery. Midway through the song, the band stops suddenly (followed by a late Carlos D who fits a note in edgewise), and reemerges in an absolutely stunning bridge dominated by Banks’ towering vocals. Towards the end, the song rides away on the back of skipping cymbals while Banks chants, “White goddess, red goddess, black temptress of the sea you treat me like…” and the listener is left breathless.
Much like on Bright Lights, the second half is subtly but perceptibly different from the first. “C’mere” is one of the poppiest songs Interpol has released to date, and it works well. “C’mere” is followed immediately by “Length of Love,” a longer dirge built around malevolent percussion. The closer, “A Time to be Small,” is darker still: Banks’ lyrical material is gothically morbid; he uses such symbols as cadaverous mobs and phantom erections. The song is lethargic; it seems as if the band is running through molasses. The effect is unnerving to say the least, and the album ends cast in remorse and foreboding.
The question to ask here may not be “Which is better, Turn on the Bright Lights or Antics?” but rather “Does Antics successfully build on the ideas of Bright Lights?” The answer to the latter is a resounding “yes.” Songs like “NARC,” “Evil,” and “Not Even Jail” could belong on either record, while “Slow Hands,” “C’mere,” and “Take You on a Cruise” are structurally and emotionally different from the songs on the debut while still being incredibly successful. Clearly, Interpol’s goal in this album wasn’t to distance the band from its old sound or to redefine itself as a band, and that’s fine. Because the debut was so unique and recognizable, the band didn’t need to change all that much musically. Antics is a very strong record that is home to a number of truly incredible songs. If this album is any indication of the band’s staying power, look for a bright future for the darkly clad boys of Interpol.