Interpol. Always a ray of sunshine and a barrel of laughs…
Interpol are a curious beast. Beloved of hipsters and muso’s alike without ever really crossing into the public consciousness. This does Interpol an injustice however. New York’s finest are a thoughtful, intelligent and frighteningly talented band. Their standoffishness is another string to their bow for adoring fans. On first listen there is little to distinguish between Interpol’s five albums. Upon repeated listens however the nuances begin to announce themselves. Interpol made a million imitators want to pick up a guitar.
5. Interpol (2010)
Key Track: Barricade
What They Said: ‘We were all trying to push ourselves and didn’t have any interest in “back to basics.” We were more keen on trying some new things.’ – Paul Banks
Interpol’s self titled 4th album is the moment when they became everything their detractors claimed they were. Pedestrian, unoriginal, and every song sounds the same. Single ‘Lights’ is a juggernaut live but it sounds flat on record. The rest of the album passes by in similar fashion.
The only song to poke it’s head above the sea of mediocrity is ‘Barricades’ which is, admittedly, excellent. Interpol’s eponymous album sounds like a band out of ideas, thankfully the album that followed it suggests it was only a blip.
4. Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)
Key Track: Obstacle 2
What They Said: ‘I was always very misunderstood and taken as very pretentious and serious all the time. I would think, “Do you not see there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek and humor here?” – Paul Banks
‘All I wanted to do was get to make a record with a company I really liked, and I had done that. I had very humble expectations for our first album, and little reason to believe otherwise considering how long we’d been around in New York with a lot of these songs.’ – Daniel Kessler
I’m not normally in the business of slaughtering sacred cows but I have never connected with Turn On The Bright Lights in the same way that others have. Musically however, it does serve as a good introduction to Interpol’s sound. Carlos D’s ever present bass splutters and pops like a ghost train chugging over a track of bubble wrap. Daniel Kessler’s guitar churns out uptight, industrial licks while Paul Banks does his best Ian Curtis impression over the top. For all the accomplished musicianship there isn’t a single song on Interpol’s first album that I could hum on demand and that isn’t through lack of listens.
The album picks up in the latter half but I find every song merges into the next with no discernible melody or stand out moments. There are spells within songs, mostly instrumental moments, that do shine, but no one song stands out. It might just be because I was late getting into Interpol or maybe it is just overrated. Either way, me and Turn On The Bright Lights just don’t get on.
3. El Pintor (2014)
Key Track: My Desire
What They Said: ‘I’ve sung in falsetto more in my solo work. So it’s not new to me, but I think it might be more new to the Interpol catalogue. But my falsetto doesn’t sound like that when it’s good. My voice was fucked by the time I was singing that song.’ – Paul Banks
Interpol’s fifth and most recent album was thankfully a return to form after their lacklustre fourth effort. El Pintor marked 7 long years since the release of Our Love To Admire, with Paul Banks inconsistent solo work offering little sign of a resurgence for the New York band. Excellent lead single ‘All The Rage Back Home’ made fans of the band sit up and take notice, they were right to be excited.
El Pintor is not as insistent as Our Love To Admire or as show stopping as Antics but it shares positive qualities with each. Song titles may be familiar (‘Breaker 1′) but Paul Banks’ falsetto is a welcome addition as well as a tunefulness that is sometimes absent from their previous work. A resounding steadying of the Interpol ship.
2. Antics (2004)
Key Track: Evil
What They Said: ‘We kind of looked at it like we were gonna put out another rock record that was written and recorded like our first one with the four of us in our little room in Brooklyn and we’re just gonna go record it and we’re not gonna fucking hire a symphony or rent a cellist. We’re just gonna keep within the same parameters because it felt like the authentic thing to do in our position’ – Paul Banks
If the breathless pace of Turn On The Bright Lights sounds like a band in a hurry, then Antics is surely the victory lap. From the repetitive refrain of ‘Next Exit’ right through to closing track ‘A Time To Be Small’, Antics is more melodic, more confident and just plain better than its predecessor. At only 10 tracks there is no room for filler and in ‘Evil’, ‘Narc’, ‘Slow Hands’ and ‘C’mere’, Antics contains some of Interpol’s most well-known and successful tracks.
Antics deserves its status as Interpol’s most critically acclaimed and best selling album. It may not be as consistent as Our Love To Admirebut it definitely contains Interpol’s best songs.
1. Our Love To Admire (2007)
Key Track: Mammoth
What They Said: ‘We had keyboards on from the start which we’ve never done before. It’s like a fifth member. There’s a lot more texture, and interesting sounds, there’s definitely progression and growth.’ – Daniel Kessler
Our Love To Admire is perhaps the most polarizing of all the Interpol albums. It is either a band hitting their peak or resting on their laurels. Progress or stagnation?
Interpol’s third album is focused, determined and flawless. 11 masterfully crafted, incisive tracks that demand to be played over and over again. Daniel Kessler’s inimitable guitar swirls and winds around hypnotic opener ‘Pioneer To The Falls’ and it never lets up throughout 10 perfectly crafted songs. What follows is the best four track run on any Interpol album with underrated single Mammoth preceded by ‘The Heinrich Maneuver’, ‘The Scale’ and ‘No I In Threesome’.
The most obvious criticism levelled at Interpol is that all their songs sound the same. It is the opening five tracks from Our Love To Admirethat dispels this argument. New instruments and changes in tempo make for a vibrant and eclectic listen – something missing from the first two albums.
The rest of the record is just as impressive, with the drug ode ‘Rest My Chemistry’ and vulnerable album closer ‘The Lighthouse’ being obvious highlights.
Interpol are a band that have seen other artists they have influenced, go on to, if not better, then certainly bigger things. There is no doubt that without Interpol there would be no Killers, The Bravery, Editors, White Lies and many others. Whilst it must be galling for Paul Banks and co to see less accomplished bands have more success, they can take comfort in the fact that they are the best cult band in the world.