So, let’s talk Interpol
I’ll be honest, I’m not all that up with these guys. I have a copy of “Turn on the Bright Lights” for the nights that I want to pout about the house, and I like it. Not the most most varied thing around, but I liked it, and so did a lot of other people. But after that, Interpol seemed to go the way of The Strokes, and put out two so-so albums that pissed away their credit (the only difference being Interpol never did anything as awesome as “Reptilia”).
And so we arrive at the present day with the band’s self-titled album. Opener “Success” does a good job bringing us in; it builds from a simple but in-your-face riff into a tension filled song that does a great job building momentum. ..which is then killed when that song suddenly stops, and “Memory Serves” starts at a much slower pace.
If the slow pace bothers you, then you might as well file Interpol under not worth it, because mid-tempo is the order of the day here. Aside from the aforementioned “Success”, the only time these well dressed New York boys break out of their funk is first single “Barricade”. That song demonstrates the giant hole left by bassist Carlo Dengler’s departure. In fact, Dengler’s bass continues to be the strongest thing in the band’s sound, and that actually means something. It’s been easy to fault Interpol on never changing their sound that much, but they do what they do so well musically; as musicians, these guys are lock-stop tight. The only addition to the Interpol sound is some piano and keyboard work, which adds some atmospheric touches here and there, and works to various degrees depending on the song.
Sorry, got off track. The mid-tempo approach works great on “Lights”, which builds to a long-sought but satisfying climax filled with dense guitars and keyboards. Interpol aims to be an atmospheric record, and it’s successful on songs like “Memory Serves” and to a lesser extent “The Undoing”. Interpol stays true to Interpol’s usual “dark but kind of oblique” stance on songwriting, although the dirge “All of the Ways” sounds almost embarrassingly bitter. I’ve heard that the record is supposed to be a loose narrative of a failed relationship, but that doesn’t strike me as something particularly essential to Interpol, although it’s a nice idea.
And the presence of “nice ideas” is what makes Interpol frustrating as a record. The added keyboards, atmospheric texture, and Alan Moulder’s organic mix are all great, but very rarely do all of the good elements come together in one song (I’d point to “Lights” as the best distillation). Too often, especially on the album’s funeral procession slow back half, ideas are tossed in, but never capitalized on. There’s nothing wrong with slow pacing, focusing on atmosphere, or building tension, but the trouble is that the songs don’t go anywhere. And when songs clock in at the 4 and 5 minute markers, that’s a problem. I’ve heard that this album is “a grower” (the great comeback to negative reviews), but after a full day of listening, what’s grown has grown and the rest never will. Three out of five stars.
tl;dr: Interpol proves that having great ideas and tight musicianship means nothing if you don’t engage someone with it. 3/5