By David M. Goldstein | 17 September 2010
Interpol needed to come back hard. After a classic debut and good enough follow-up, third effort Our Love to Admire (2007) was generally (and correctly) savaged. Its mediocrity resulted from a combination of retread songwriting and head-slapping artistic decisions bordering on self-parody. You are correct in remembering that the second song really was entitled “No I in Threesome,” and “Rest My Chemistry” seemed to be narrated from the perspective of a hip musician who sounded grateful to have at least one night a week where he’s not required to hit the groupies and blow (and about that rustic cover art: wow). You poor successful band you.
But OLTA still sounded like a proper Interpol record. It also contained “Pace is the Trick,” a surprisingly unheralded track that’s easily as good as anything off of Turn On the Bright Lights (2002). It’s a prime example of what this band does best: weighty atmosphere supplemented by a killer chorus and a pumped-up rhythm section capable of cutting glass. The tempo is languid; still, Carlos D and Sam Fogarino assure the song moves. So now they’ve elected to self-title their fourth record, a move that should lead anyone to rightfully anticipate a consolidation of strengths as well as an opportunity to press the reset button. In turn, they’ve been badmouthing Our Love to Admire, and Fogarino’s even stated that an aim for Interpol was to re-establish the heavy reverb wash present throughout Turn on the Bright Lights that’d gone missing as of late.
Reverb’s a hell of a drug. It can elevate good songs into ethereal masterpieces—witness the weightless majesty of My Morning Jacket’s “It Beats 4 U”; the cathedral-like grandeur of the Walkmen’s “In the New Year”; or heck, “Untitled” off of Interpol’s first record—but rely too heavily on the stuff and you’re left with little more than ambient noise. So believe me when I tell you that, on one point at least, Interpol wholeheartedly succeeds: songwriting necessities such as memorable hooks and riffs are completely downplayed in favor of making every guitar feel as if it’s suspended in air. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of their guitarists (Paul Banks perhaps?) is simply entrusted with “atmosphere,” assigned the hammering of one cloudy chord over and over, filling background space and reassuring the listener that the reverb has indeed returned.
The band’s chosen template for comeback success would thusly appear to be more “Untitled” than “PDA,” which wouldn’t be such a big deal had it not come at the expense of their once mighty rhythm section. While Carlos D and Sam Fogarino are technically present on this record, Alan Moulder’s mix job mercilessly rounds off their edges. Fogarino gets the worst of it—his kick drum sounds like it was stuffed with bedsheets to avoid waking Mom and Dad. Unfortunately, in this case, we’re Mom and Dad: tired and boring, this is a record that’s droning even by these guys’ mopey standards, and Paul Bank’s vocals have never been this nasal. There’s simply no reason for Interpol to sound this murky.
So it’s to their credit that the first half of Interpol is as listenable as it is. Opener “Success” is easily the album’s best song; the thick, snapping bass lines and tenacious drums allow the band to turn corners, and Paul Banks turns in a suitably creepy vocal about…oh, I dunno, being “successful” and still miserable? “Memory Serves” overdoses on the rumbling guitar, but mostly works on account of a sweeping chorus and foreboding piano motif, despite being at least two minutes too long. The next three songs are all poppy (by Interpol standards) numbers that might have proven excellent with more bottom end. “Summer Well” in particular seems to suffer; the extended bass fadeout coupled with Bank’s cooing “it’s alriiiight” vocals would have been a proper highlight if mixed any better.
But songs six through ten? Calling them a slog would be an understatement. Nothing rises above mid-tempo, the reverb shifts from questionable to suffocating, and Banks has picked up the habit of mindlessly repeating song titles as choruses like a clinically depressed Brian Johnson. Penultimate track “All of the Ways” clearly strives to be a doom-leaden, rope’s-end epic, but just ends up sounding repetitive and desperate. Really, the only reason to willingly listen to any song after “Barricade” more than twice is if you’ve been asked to write about it for an online publication. Print mags: more than three times. Suckers.
It’s now well known that bassist Carlos Dengler left Interpol shortly after Interpol was recorded, and he’s since been replaced by veteran indie stopgap Dave Pajo. I had always assumed that Dengler’s departure was due to expected artistic differences and/or him being an egotist, but now I’m thinking he just left because Alan Moulder made him sound like a chump. It’s difficult to say where Interpol can go from here; far from revitalizing their status as black-clad, NYC rock royalty, Interpol is a ridiculously dour record. Humbled by a silenced rhythm section and bafflingly reverberated guitars, the majority of Interpol is little more than background static. Maybe it’s time for an intervention.