Our Love to Admire

(Capitol; 2007)

By Andre Perry | 4 September 2007

Let's make this clear: all of Interpol's records -- their gloomy debut, then the upbeat Antics (2004), and now this one, which splits the difference in tone between its predecessors empirically down the middle -- have worked inside a sound they've first defined and then abused. If you've been keeping tabs then you know the deal: it's that biting single-note guitar attack with endless down-stroke strumming, the focused and fierce rhythm section of flirting hyper-busy drum and bass, those primitive Joy Division synths, and singer Paul Banks' monotone groan. In fact, it might be okay to keep reusing and honing old techniques if the songs were improving, but Our Love To Admire just demonstrates a band that has exhausted most of their creative possibilities. The rhythm section -- Sam Fogarino on drums and Carlos Dengler on bass -- is rehashing beats and bass lines to diminishing returns. Daniel Kessler and Paul Banks' guitars, higher in the mix more than ever before, are beginning to grate without an underbelly to balance the weight; some lightly strummed chords -- remember "NYC"? -- never hurt anybody. And, c'mon, as far as song structure is concerned, I'm quite sure they've worked the little play I like to call "outro via mid-song breakdown" into the ground.

So, the band's made this easy for me and I'm feeding you the lowdown straight. It's not like there's nuance to spare on Our Love To Admire, it's not like their earlier achievements where even hitting hard took time to develop. Think back to the final section of "PDA" (their best single from their debut). By restraining the instruments and then steadily but subtly re-introducing them, the band allowed a seemingly shallow closing movement to unfold over two minutes, methodically building to a shocking peak. I'd even go so far as to say that "PDA" (along with "Obstacle 1") defied expectations for singles. The end of the song is essentially a jam; there's a whole minute before the singing kicks back in. Several of the rockers on Our Love to Admire, like "Mammoth" and "No I In Threesome", not only sound rushed but are stacked to the brim with superlative, logy instrumentation, all rapid gunfire and no chance for fresh air. Lead single "Heinrich Maneuver" digests like space food: I've got all my ingredients but where's the taste? Crunching a couple of verse/choruses head-on into a forgettable final section demonstrates an Interpol any stereotypical major label can get behind, one condensing their music into a forced single format. And Mr. Banks, your lyrics, "How are things on the West Coast / You wear those shoes like a dove" might be fun to sing ironically at the club after a shot of whisky -- laughing at you sir, not with you -- but listening to those lines at home is like feeling both lonely and embarrassed at once. "You wear those shoes like a dove." Pardon?

Mostly, Banks's lyrics prove to be liabilities throughout. Sometimes he just tries to fit too many words into his phrases, forgetting that simplicity in arrangement can be one of Interpol's strengths. On "Untitled" all he had to say was "I'll surprise you sometime and come around / When you're down" and he captured the sentiment of that elusive and frustrating lover who still can save you in some sort of desolate eleventh hour situation. Now he's just settled for the blunt and for the trite. "Rest My Chemistry," an otherwise lively song about a party-weary protagonist collapses under its most spotlighted lines: "You look so young / So sweet so surprised / You look so young like a daisy in my lazy eyes." The imagery is weak and tired, as worn-out as the character Banks is portraying. How many more times can this band evoke the sentiment of a coked-out relationship in the Big City? I'd prefer their characters to just go clean and see what kind of song that delivers.

Still, there are a few great ideas on this album. The prominent use of piano (in the past they would have just knocked it out with an electric guitar) during the verses of "No I In Threesome" proves how subtle changes in arrangement can freshen up old-hat song structures. On a guitar solo at the end of "Scale", Kessler employs an eerie-as-fuck sustain effect that allows his guitar to scream rather than stab along his usual repetitive down-strokes. The opening track, "Pioneer To The Falls," a dark, well-paced exploration of romantic failure, restores some of the aforementioned nuance of the band's early work. It takes about six minutes to open up, explode, and calm down again, but this studied approach is a smart way for the song to wear its skin: lived in. Kessler's mid-song guitar workout feels natural when he kicks it into gear, bending a series of delayed notes and giving his tone a synth-like quality. A bit more of an exponentially pummeling spree, "Pace Is the Trick" is another killer song that wisely takes time to mature. A quiet first section accentuates Banks' voice; he's only accompanied by piano, guitar, and, eventually, organ. The melody takes off as the rhythm section enters and guides Banks to his simple but catchy vocal hook, where he salutes, "Now I select you / Slow now I've let you / See how I stun!" In the end-section he goes even barer, repeating "You don't hold a candle" -- leaving it open-ended as an organ drone envelops the remaining instruments.

More than any other track, "Lighthouse" hints at possible stylistic changes for the band's next phase. I'm reminded of the reverb-heavy guitars of the Walkmen's "No Christmas While I'm Talking" and Banks's vocals are pure space, something mawkishly from the ambient moments of Bowie's Low (1977) or Heroes (1977). I wish the band had been as bold when playing with their established formula like they did on "Lighthouse," because whether they succeeded or failed, they would have at least created something different enough from the obvious dreck to warrant repeat listens. Probably.

And that's it. Hints and promises not yet dried up but nothing enticing enough to keep this record on repeat. It's too easy to blame Interpol's brand new major label contract -- after all Capitol didn't write these songs -- but that major label budget certainly didn't help much as even the best songs of Our Love To Admire can't reach the boggling complexity and honesty of most anything from Turn On The Bright Lights (2002). But the execs at Capitol aren't so concerned with complexity as long as the product moves. Or that's what we can assume because, in the season of blockbuster sequels, and even threequels, Our Love To Admire suffers the lowest of fates: becoming a typical PR statistic.