Ah, the back-to-basics album.
In the storied history of recorded music, this difficult career maneuver has often been attempted. In general, the album follows a promising debut and a one- or two-album downturn; it is an attempt to recapture what the band did right on its first album.
After their stellar debut album Turn On The Bright Lights, Interpol band members were declared the new gods of New York City post-alt. After their equally stellar, but
not all that different second album Antics, they retained their throne but left some yawning. That’s when they decided to fix what wasn’t broke yet. Their third album, Our Love To Admire, reinvented and broadened the scope of their music, and it was a critical disappointment. And here is their fourth album, an obvious attempt to figure out exactly what they did right on their first album.
The back-to-basics album.
As is the case with many a comeback album, Interpol — the eponymous album — hasn’t quite hit it on the nose. “Barricade,” the album’s first single, might be the best single acid-test here. It’s bass heavy with pounding drums and sparse utilitarian guitars, a pretty accurate early-Interpol impression.
And like any good Interpol impression, the smooth, deep voice delivers weighty non sequiturs such as Full speed half blind full tilt decline / We turn to past times. These lyrics, however, don’t feel weighty, and threaten to expose the flimsy songwriting that was always hiding behind singer Paul Banks’ conviction.
Vocally, Banks is in top form, but lyrically, nothing quite lands right. Again, on that lead single, phrases such as It starts to seem like a barricade / To keep us away have the look and feel of “Slow Hands” (from Antics), but lack punch in delivery and content.
The second single, “Lights,” is likely the strongest song on the album and hopefully an indicator of what the future of Interpol holds. What it has done right, or at least better, is return to its old sound without completely forgetting lessons learned from Our Love To Admire. Garnished with the pop sentiments that overpowered the former album, Interpol’s standout track is a good mixed drink and a lousy simile away from impotence, but it manages to marry that classic Interpol sound with the little things that worked on its sonic departure.
The major problem with the album is that no song possesses an immediacy that is even closely comparable to the best of Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics. In fact, although the sound of the record is considerably improved over its poorly received predecessor, Our Love To Admire had songs that were stickier, even indelible. Interpol has none.
As blasphemous as slight praise toward Our Love To Admire is, it was a distinct and indelible departure from the formula. Antics was excellent, but as hard as it was to admit, it was a worrisome similar-sounding piece of work that begged the question: Is this all they can do? And after the disappointing third album that, in retrospect, was somewhat catchy, the answer might be that the Interpol sound is all that band should do.
It is a bittersweet realization that this band has ultimately amounted to something less than its early canonization promised. As the word “bittersweet” suggests, however, that’s not the worst thing that could have happened. Interpol is, by a full leap and half a bound, a better album. Although it’s a step backward, in this case, backward is the right direction.