Full Tilt, Decline
Can someone explain the disdain for Interpol’s third album, 2007’s Our Love to Admire? It had its arena-rock moments, to be sure, but it still had some devil’s-disco momentum, nicely conceived imagery, and minor-key contemplation to hearken back to the New York band’s masterful 2002 debut Turn on the Bright Lights, plus some experimentation to boot. Interpol’s trip back to the Matador label from Capitol for their new self-titled album proves that an indie imprint is no guarantee of credibility or quality.
Interpol finds the band’s songwriting crashing back to earth. On one front, they subtly retreat to recognizable conceits from the past. They trade the bicoastal long-distance relationship of Our Love‘s “Heinrich Maneuver” for a failing Hamptons/Manhattan one in “Summer Well,” while lines like “I’ve got two secrets / But I only told you one” from “Success” recall prior mysterious quantifications in their lyrics.
On a second front, Interpol concoct few hard-hitting visuals and metaphors here. Gone are the Bright Lights days of moving into one’s airspace or stabbing yourself in the neck. Now listeners get Paul Banks intoning low-IQ Leonard Cohenisms on tracks like “Always Malaise” (“I will act in a certain way / I’ll control what I can / That’s the man I am”).
The band also try to recapture a once magically downtrodden sound, yet they come off more plodding than you remember. Sam Fogarino’s drums get pretty imaginative, tuned in “Safe Without” and thumping through “Barricade,” but electric piano intros and horn sections needlessly clutter this album. Further, the wall of guitar sound and departing bassist Carlos D’s low end never really muster enough power for either a dance track or sustained and entertaining doomsaying.
Instances are rare where Interpol hits “classic” Interpol notes or alternately introduces anything refreshing. “All of the Ways” does work hard to buzz and echo, to be creepy and stalkerish, while first single “Lights” is a long, quavering plea that builds to a “that’s why I hold you” climax in its final 90 seconds. There are also some songs with mumbled harmonies and crosstalk lyrics, curiosities of arrangement that would do R.E.M. proud circa Fables of the Reconstruction.
Pundits may be praising the goth, dream-pop, and post-punk revivalist sounds coming from artists like The Big Pink and A Place to Bury Strangers, but such ponds are certainly big enough to accommodate plenty more nice-sized fish. Interpol suggests the band were overly desperate to reclaim sounds they never really lost.