Don’t let your expectations get the best of you when you sit down with Interpol’s fifth album, El Pintor. Expectations have been a problem for Interpol for years—starting with the success of the band’s 2002 debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, which made them the darlings of the early-oughts New York rock scene. From there, the world began to expect Interpol to maintain the same kind of energy and sound, resulting in the status quo-aesthetics of 2004’s Antics and 2007’s Our Love to Admire. But the band’s fourth, self-titled album released in 2010 was largely viewed as lackluster at best, a disappointment and complete failure at worst. Following the album’s flop and the departure of longtime bassist Carlos Denger, Interpol announced they’d be taking a hiatus to work on their own projects, other bands and solo ventures, and even a seafood restaurant, in the case of guitarist Daniel Kessler.
After four years, not much has really changed. Though El Pintor makes a pretense at artistic creativity (it both means “the painter” in Spanish and is an anagram, scrambling up “Interpol”), there’s nothing completely new or original here. But that isn’t to say the album doesn’t have value, when considered in its context—El Pintor is a kind of return to the sound that made Interpol famous in the first place, an attempt to recapture and reinvigorate their strengths from the time of Turn On the Bright Lights, and to move away from the direction they were heading prior to the hiatus. The moment the opening track, “All the Rage Back Home,” begins, it sweeps you back in time. This is the Interpol their fans know and love—frontman Paul Banks’s droll drawl shudders over a trebly guitar and pounding drums, with slick, just-a-bit-dark, guitar-and-drums-driven production that transports listeners back a decade. And it makes sense: the band self-produced this album, with Banks taking over Dengler’s bass, and industry veteran Alan Moulder (who’s worked with, among many others, the Foo Fighters, My Bloody Valentine, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Foals) as the mixer.
The rest of the album plays out much the same. Guitars and percussion almost drown out Banks on “My Desire,” rolling in obsessive, repetitive riffs. “Anywhere” and “Breaker 1” refer back, again, to the band’s earlier material with their insistent percussion and loud, busy choruses, and “Everything is Wrong” has a heavy, plodding guitar that runs in counterpoint to Banks’s occasional, rare falsetto and usual pseudo-whine. The problem with all of these songs, after the album’s strong opening, is that they tend to blend together, without any very memorable or distinguishing features. “Ancient Ways” is decidedly humdrum; too many different layers of guitar, synths, and vocals run together in a kind of sonic mush, and “Tidal Wave” sounds like a tedious run of the mill rock song, easily forgotten.
El Pintor gives a hearty nod back to Interpol’s past, proving the band still have chemistry and vitality together. But it doesn’t move Interpol forward, either, instead leaving them hovering in limbo, caught between reliving the past and wavering before an uncertain future. Here’s to hoping next time Interpol take a risk and try something new, rather than rehashing their old material and falling into a tired, vicious circle of disappointed expectations.