(Matador; 2004)

By Amir Nezar | 22 September 2004

I wonder if critics will ever accept that somewhere, along the influence-marked road on which we chase the artists that pass by our taste-police station, some bands just take off. Not by speeding up so that we catch up with them a few miles down the highway and a few punk turns to the right - what I mean is adding a third axis, taking flight, confounding the myopic two-dimensional lens that we use to mate two influential bands and--voila!--pin the band before us onto the bug-collector’s chart of music history. Isn’t it at least _possible_ that a band of our day, a band that doesn’t innovate beyond recognizable boundaries, might still transcend our ready made-labels, floating above us in that untouchable ether--immortality? I, for one, have accepted such a possibility, because from where I’m standing it’s all I can do to squint up and see Interpol at their fathomless heights among the stars, their deep gray, love-torn wings gradually melting and brightening into the beginnings of a constellation. I will venture that Interpol will not gather dust along with the innumerable collections of easily classified, easily shelved acts from which critics derive an empty sustenance. Time (if we are too stubborn to do so because of our history-worship) will award them their place in music’s pantheon, right _next_ to Joy Division, right _next_ to Television--but not as a part of either of those band’s constellations. Or of any others, for that matter. It should’ve been evident from their debut. Critics and fans have only been able to attach incorrect or conflicting references to Interpol. Joy Division has been the lazy toss of many critics, and an equal number have (rightfully) denied the comparison as one based merely on similarity of haunting atmospheres. But aside from “they’re not Joy Division,” positive and consistent references are fleeting; I’ve heard mentioned (to name a few) the Smiths, Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Fugazi, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Pixies, Wire, and even My Bloody Valentine. So, Interpol either sound like every great band from 1978-2002, or that they just have one thing in common with all these bands, and which all these bands have in common with each other: greatness. A debut isn’t enough to vault them among the greats; but a nearly perfect follow-up like _Antics_ just might be. The album-craft behind this sophomore effort is remarkable; _Antics_ cleverly nods to their previous efforts (“A Time to Be So Small” is a handily revamped demo from years ago) and keeps intact Interpol’s singular melodic prowess, while both tightening its songwriting and making unpredictable shifts in instrumental emphasis. A fool would complain that “Next Exit” has the same pace and opening weight as “Untitled.” But a wiser man would easily spot “Next Exit” as the prefacing statement of a greater _modus operandi_, that is: Interpol want it completely clear that they’re not about to toss their greatest strengths in the garbage. Rather, if the use of an organ, the reduction of reverb, and Paul Banks’s remarkably more developed vocals are any indication, the band is interested in rearranging their elements within their already existing ethic. Complain about it if you will, but be ready to back up an argument that the instrumental similarity between _Surfer Rosa_, _Doolittle_, and _Bossanova_ detracts from each of those albums’ greatness. If _Antics_ seems less consistent than _Turn on the Bright Lights_, it’s an illusion created by the band’s constantly changing instrumental focus. “Evil”’s gumption is derived from Carlos Denglar’s sharp bass riff, while Daniel Kessler’s rough-edged guitar lead anchors “Narc” all the way up to its sublime coda. And in the final one-two-three combo of the album’s first half, the group shifts to an arresting, sustained guitar-feedback moan as the pervasive element of “Take You on a Cruise.” The technique doubles its impact with the addition of a competing, second guitar line that winds about its counterpart in a snaking melodic line. Sam Fogarino, for his part, varies his drum technique with the kind of effortless brilliance that so quickly solidified Interpol’s rhythm section as the band’s ace of spades. His sheer inventiveness, his almost ostentatious defiance of drumming convention, his unpredictability, is as refreshing as ever. And Paul Banks’s voice is both stronger and more versatile throughout _Antics_ than it was in its comparatively subdued role in _Turn on the Bright Lights_. On _Bright Lights_ his voice was most often quiet in its hurt; here it tears out in full gusts of anguish to spine-chilling effect. Banks’s lyrical focus is the same as it has ever been: on love. He provides the most concise summary of it amidst the tornado of “Slow Hands”: “You make me want to pick up my guitar / And celebrate the myriad ways that I love you.” Few singers seem gifted with Banks’s ability to approach love lyrics with the kind of dark obliqueness that reflects its inherent complexity and conflict. Even fewer can even approach his sheer emotional power in the delivery of those lyrics. When, on “C’Mere,” his clawing passion fades to frail tenderness and he waveringly pleads “Oh, how I love you / Oh in the evening / When we are sleeping,” he’s positively shattering. And when he yearningly questions in “Narc,” “Love, can you love me babe / Love, is this loving babe / is time turning around?” all the confusion of so many poets’ favorite subject comes to familiar light. All this lovely longing comes packaged with profoundly moving music and sweetly sharp hooks that easily rival the stunning highs of _Bright Lights_. The final iteration of “Slow Hands”’s hungry chorus, after an angelic, rising bridge, is roaring with rabidly creative, stuttering bass work that collapses into the song’s on-a-dime ending. The ravishing melody of “Narc”’s choruses slips into a dazed and jagged pause before Kessler winds his way into a new hook and carries the song into darkness on the wings of bleeding desire. And the violent guitar stabs through the steady weave of “Length of Love”’s minor-chord coda are sheer genius. But the album’s centerpiece, “Not Even Jail,” is deliberate songcraft at its breathtaking best: bursting through the door on a cymbal punch, it follows two mirroring progressions towards dual, cathartic climaxes. Each is replete with clear, hauntingly melodic guitar progressions, insistent drumming, spidery bass dances, and indelible crescendos, as Banks sings “Take hold of your time here / give some meaning to the means.” When it embarks on its second version of the progression with new, desperately soaring guitars, Banks sings “Can’t you feel the warmth of my sincerity?” and its crushing weight builds to unsustainable heights--the bliss of its second release reverberates throughout the walls of your heart, your building, reality itself. It’s not an uncommon effect elsewhere on this remarkable piece of artistry; it’s merely less thunderously pronounced. A couple years ago, Ian McEwan’s _Atonement_ lost the Booker Prize to Yann Martel’s best-selling _Life of Pi_, and many regarded it as a victory of politeness over craft; McEwan had already won the Booker for _Amsterdam_. I’m not interested in the same politeness. Though _Turn on the Bright Lights_ was the best album of 2002, I’ll not hesitate to say that, barring some otherworldly competition, _Antics_ looks to be the best album of 2004. It’s not so hard to believe that arguably the best band of the '00s so far could produce two year end list-topping albums. The way things are looking, Interpol may have a couple more in store for us.