Anyone still nostalgically operating in a post-millenial state of revelry is bound to be disappointed by Interpol’s fourth offering – a self-titled set of tunes that retains the band’s trademark gloomy atmospherics while ditching the sprawling emotional contour that made their oldest material so spellbinding. To quote one of the group’s own song titles, there’s a pervasive sense of malaise on this record, and the distress only gets heavier as the seconds tick by; the tortured and fragile beauty persists, but any sense of panache is continually muted by the languid tempos and Paul Banks’ increasingly nasally moan.
The band’s debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, was one of the best records of 2002, if not the decade, but its success can also be attributed to a revived New York scene that was busy dancing to The Strokes while healing from the tragedies of 9/11. All eyes were on Manhattan, and Interpol was right there in the middle of it all adding to the milieu, dressed to the nines and playing some of the most somber and affecting post-punk this side of Joy Division.
Most would point to 2007’s Our Love to Admire as the low point in the Interpol catalogue, and rightfully so. With an album cover that probably appealed more to taxidermists than to fans of the band’s haunting mope-rock, the LP was largely an uneven affair that found the fashionable quartet haphazardly trying to court both its original fanbase and the one that would hopefully emerge as a result of their new deal with Capitol Records. The public reaction was largely disdainful, and another three years would pass before the boys in black would regroup to give it another go. That all said, you can hardly blame the band for Interpol’s obvious downer vibe – a critical lashing is never easy to stomach, and the more recent derailing of the band’s initial tour dates (thanks to U2) and the departure of enigmatic bassist Carlos D only complicates matters.
Setbacks notwithstanding, the foursome is soldiering on, and credit is due them for a relatively successful rebound; Interpol doesn’t come close to Bright Lights or even 2004’s Antics in terms of artistry, but it far surpasses the mediocrity with which they had recently been flirting. Opening track “Success” pits a galloping drum groove and surprisingly jumpy bass playing with Daniel Kessler’s frosty guitar melodies. Belying it all is Paul Banks, whose droning vocals become increasingly grating on lines like, “Dreams of long life / what safety can you find.” It’s a little early in the proceedings for a song as lethargic as “Memory Serves,” but it’s still a delight to hear Carlos D’s uber-melodic bass lines and the ethereal flourishes brought about by the presence of Brandon Curtis’s keyboard textures. “Summer Well” is about as close as the group comes to a dance tune, featuring some great interplay between the bass, keyboards, and drums.
Singles “Lights” and “Barricade” comprise the disc’s middle third, with the former slowly gathering steam on Kessler’s ominous guitar arpeggiations and lyrics that, in classic Interpol fashion, are bound to turn some heads. “I want you to police me / but keep it clean,” sings Banks in a pleading tone. At close to six minutes, the song is epic both in length and in structure, eventually building itself up to gargantuan heights with multiple guitar and vocal overdubs while Banks intones, mantra-like, “We’d like to take the sights / that’s why I hold dear.”
Things fall flat after this. “Always Malaise” is a piano ballad of the dreariest variety, while “All of the Ways” meanders in a thick fog of unsettled ambience until the dynamics become turgid at the 3:00 mark and threaten too explode in anger. A brief bright spot is “Try It On,” which features some brilliant work on the drums from Sam Fogarino, a little whistling (?!) and a macabre electric keyboard motif.
Four long players into their career, you can’t help but wonder if Interpol is just trying too hard to recapture some of that Turn On the Bright Lights magic. Either that, or the creative juices have been stifled by a rough turn of events. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and wait it out for LP #5.