Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eponymous But Not Anonymous (Interpol CD Review) by Alison Ross

I honestly thought Interpol were through after the pitifully lackluster, Our Love to Admire. The first two albums were so staggeringly atmospheric and textured, and so rich with aggressively grabbing hooks and aching melody, that when the band dropped OLTA, all my bouyant enthusiasm for them severely deflated. OLTA was an embarassing rehash of the past paradigms created on Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics, almost karaoke-esque in its generic delivery. It was as though Interpol hired another band to interpret its signature sound, and that band, like all cover bands, only managed to skim the surface of the original band's vibrant dynamics.

It's not to say there are not a few shining moments on OLTA, but it just isn't very inspired overall, and nor does it bring anything new to the table. On the other hand, TOTBL offered a mournful, mercurial aura, thick slabs of punchy, punky guitars, and mystically haunting melodies, while Antics offered a slightly lighter take with novel, catchy compositions like Evil and Slow Hands, elegantly grandiose statements like Next Exit, painfully sonorous melodies like Take You on a Cruise, and so on. Both albums had their pitfalls, to be sure, but they were few and far between, whereas OLTA was basically one major pitfall with scattered moments of tepid brilliance. It rendered Interpol almost anonymous, whereas the first two albums were founded on an indelible indenity.

The problem with Interpol is that when they are great, they are transcendently so, and when they are bad, they are abysmally so. OLTA teetered on the edge of that abyss.

The good news is, Interpol's eponymous album, released in September, manages to rescue Interpol from completely drowning in their own misguided ambitions. But it most be noted that it only partially rescues the band; they are still halfway submerged in the waters that threaten to wholly consume them if they don't make a dramatic turnaround by the next album.

Interpol the album is overall more cohesively structured than OLTA, and its bright/dark aesthetics recall both TOTBL and Antics. It is more nuanced and the textures are more tangible than on the last album, which was basically devoid of the delicious depth that defined the band's first two efforts. The current production layers the instruments so that the songs capture the palpable sense of tension and urgency that defines Interpol's sonic integrity.

Lights, the album's mind-blowing centerpiece, is a superbly smoldering affair. It gathers so much fiery momentum that you expect it to culiminate in an ecstatic explosion, but instead it just harnesses a sort of majestically menacing energy and subsumes the listener in a sublime hurricane swirl of a despondently pleading chorus surrounded by moody ethereal sounds.

The bad news is, no other song on the album touches the dark and sleek sexiness of Lights. There are honest attempts, as on Success and Summer Well, which are nonetheless great songs in their own right, and then there are sputtering attempts, as on Always Malaise. And, to be fair, the first half of the album, up through Barricade, is shrewdly substantial, with brooding numbers nestled against moderately brighter ones.

But the latter half limps along rather lamely. The songs continue the low-key tenor established in the first half, but they carry very little of the weight of their predecessors. The hooks are virtually non-existent, and the songs sound more forced, less organically evolved. There is a certain languid charm to the songs as they unfold, but there is nothing transcendent about them as there is with Lights.

Of course, it may be that Interpol is attempting to rewrite its sonic template. Perhaps they are deliberately relying on looser more meandering structures, rather than making muddled missteps, as might be interpreted by some listeners. Perhaps they want to make more of an impact with dreamy atmospheres that gradually evince subtle elements that stealthily latch onto your psyche rather than overt hooks that immediately captivate.

Perhaps this is Intepol's assertion of an independence from the ethos of the first two albums, and also a statement of proof that it still retains its musical mojo despite OLTA's mediocre performance. Perhaps this album foreshadows a promising future for Interpol, ultimately, because it does indeed mark progress in conception and execution.

But if the next album isn't a stunner like the first two, I can almost guarantee that the band will sink into the ocean of oblivion. And that would be a sorry shame.

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