Interpol – Interpol
When they released debut album Turn On The Bright Lights back in 2002, New York’s Interpol were regarded as the kings of the post-punk movement – intellectual and knowing lyrics combined with jagged guitar lines and atmospheric soundscapes to create an early contender for album of the decade.
Since then, the law of diminishing returns has applied to their album releases. 2004’s Antics stuck to the same jagged guitars and dark atmospherics but, although it featured fan favourites like ‘Narc’, ‘Evil’ and ‘Slow Hands’, it always seemed a little bit forced and laboured compared to their more fluid and cohesive debut. Third album Our Love To Admire was their first on a major label (Capitol) and heralded a new, more textured sound focused more on lush arrangements and heavy atmospherics than the siren-like guitar hooks and intensity of their previous albums. This led to a difficult listen and although the album proved to be a grower, not many listeners hung around long enough.
Which brings us to this, their fourth album. Being self-titled it’s tempting to view it as a bold statement of intent, an attempt to re-establish themselves at the fore-front of modern guitar music. If that was the plan, it was hampered somewhat by the recent announcement that Interpol will be the last album featuring bassist and founding member Carlos Dengler. Nevertheless, the album begins like it means business with five songs that sound like the Interpol of old – but more grown up and assured.
Album opener ‘Success’, with its densely layered guitar line and Paul Banks’ typically engaging vocals immediately sucks you in to the heavy, ambient tone of the album. ‘Memory Serves’ starts off with a brutally stark and cold tone, but it soon warms up and morphs into one of Interpol’s most euphoric songs. ‘Summer Well’ ratchets up that familiar Interpol intensity with a pulsating melody that flows effortlessly along a sharp guitar line and features the kind of head-nodding chorus that was lacking on Our Love To Admire.
‘Lights’ and ‘Barricade’ are the two stand-out tracks and form the back bone of the album. The former is full of brooding emotion and features that hard-to-define aching beauty synonymous with Interpol – the richly textured sound and haunting lyrics resonating long after the track is finished. If ‘Lights’ is the slow and tense post-punk build-up, then ‘Barricade’ is the release valve – opening up into a killer chorus that sees Banks at his posturing best.
If the rest of the album carried on in this vein then we’d have a stone cold classic on our hands. Unfortunately, the second half can’t quite deliver on the promise of the first five songs. What earlier sounded like an urgent and vital record soon gets bogged down as the gothic atmospherics take over. ‘Always Malaise (The Man I Am)’ sums this up best. It strives for an epic post-punk soundscape but comes across laboured and sounds more like a band running out of ideas. Similarly, ‘All Of The Ways’ is an instantly forgettable dirge-like love song that borders on the painful.
Special mention should go to album closer ‘The Undoing’ which rescues some of the momentum and vitality with a swaying, rhythmic coda that could go on forever and will surely become a favourite at live shows.
Although Interpol loses its focus and vigour after halfway, the first half is more than good enough to carry the album and make it essential listening.