(Matador; 2004)

By Peter Hepburn | 29 September 2004

For those of you among our readership who perused and were as seriously nonplussed about CMG writer Mr. Nezar’s recent high praises of Interpol’s sophomore effort, Antics, this review may be for you. Though several of his points about the actual music remain quite valid, he oversells the album as a whole.

Opener “Next Exit” does little or nothing to impress me. The slow kick drum in the intro is one of Sam Fogarino’s least interesting choices for the album. Indeed, the song is largely surprising in that Fogarino isn’t its saving grace, as he seems to be throughout pretty much all the rest of the album. And then Paul Banks comes in.

The problem of lyrics should probably be addressed early on, since it is something of a recurring theme. Although Banks’ vocal timbre is impressive, the lyrics rarely rise above insipid, and “Next Exit” is a prime example. I actually really didn’t mind the lyrics for Turn on the Bright Lights. “200 couches?” Cool enough. “We ain’t going to the town; we’re going to the city?” Not cool. At all.

“Evil” does a lot to redeem the album. Kim Deal should have come up with Carlos Dengler’s bass line years ago—it has that perfectly simple, slinky, groovy-as-hell feel that she practically patented in ’88. But the song packs a second punch: Daniel Kessler’s quiet guitar breakdown that hits right about 56 second into the song is pure brilliance, and I have little complaint with the lyrics for the chorus. “NARC” feels like it wants to do something bigger and just can’t quite work up the steam. “Take you on a Cruise” has a great coda, but, as is true of most of the album, it makes the listener wait a couple minutes for any sort of payoff.

“Slow Hands” feels like something Franz Ferdinand will cover, and their version will be better. If anything challenges “Evil’s” supremacy on the album, it’s “Not Even Jail,” which captures both the grandiosity that Interpol are so clearly capable of and the brilliant studio production that characterizes the album as a whole. That, and, “We will free-love to the beats of science / And girl you shake it right,” is just too goddamn funny to not love.

“Public Pervert” marks the beginning of the album’s decline, though it has a few compelling sections. “C’mere” somehow amounts to more than the sum of its parts, whereas the dark, pulsing “Length of Love” feels like it would have been better if it was just straight up disco rather than over-serious indie-rock. Either way I swear it steals the old theme song for United airlines ads—-someone needs to look into that. “A Time to be Small,” a recycled demo, serves as a decent, if not particularly inspired closer—Kessler’s guitar lines are okay, but seem rather simple in comparison with his work throughout much of the album.

So there it is. My bias deserves to be dealt with. I think Interpol is a derivative (and I don’t say this necessarily as a bad thing), lyrically-weak indie-rock band that is taken far too seriously for its own good. As far as technical skill, they’re right up there with the best of modern indie-rockers; but, then again, technique is not everything. Their time spent in the studio for Antics clearly pays off, but no matter how long a great bunch of musicians spends in the studio, they still may be unable to write a series of decent songs, as well. Some of my favorite rock bands (Pavement, Silver Jews, Guided by Voices, and even the Shins) were/are perhaps not all that great from a strictly technical sense, but they were/are still able to write great songs.

Hopefully the next time around Banks will put a bit more thought into actually focusing on the songs. Until then I’m going to stick to thinking of Interpol as an indie-rock band with promise, or possibly a post-rock band just begging for an excuse to fire their lead singer (his haircut isn’t all that cool anyways and he’s not looking quite pale enough). Either way, Antics deserves a few listens (as it does take time to appreciate some of Kessler and Fogarino’s better work), and it will certainly be interesting to see if they can follow it up with an album that either maintains its quality throughout or more clearly differentiates itself from its predecessors.