Oh No, They Didn't
On “Pioneer to the Falls”, the epic opening track of Interpol’s newest offering Our Love to Admire, the band has placed a filthy, distorted squall of guitar front and center to introduce listeners properly to the temperamental disc. As the dark, tinkling piano slowly builds layers to the mood, the song (as is the case with most Interpol rock-outs) quickly becomes ruined by lead singer/lothario Paul Banks’ mostly brain-dead lyrics. The singer’s unfortunate stream-of-consciousness ramblings and silly rhymes seem lifted directly from the diary of a middle-school-aged emo kid. It’s as though the lyrics are an afterthought.
Somehow, this affront to writers the world over becomes ok, though, because the lush horn-laden breakdowns and dirge-like rhythms save his trite, schoolgirl-in-love prose from totally getting out of control. Jangling New Wave-y keyboards and fuzzed out guitar hit hard and fast during the bridge—on which Banks throws caution to the wind and gets all Monster-era Michael Stipe on our asses with his crisp vocal performance (there is even a rapturous acapella moment that might take your breath away!). The military-esque snares that usher out the brass and guitar at the end of the song are haunting and evocative.
“Pioneer” is a brilliant song. I would go a step further to say it is the band’s best song so far in their entire career. Love them or hate them, this track is a nice step forward for the boys. The new, often grandiose arrangements and stacked-to-the-rafters production seems to suit their particular talents and are a nice progression from their last two efforts; one of which (Turn on the Bright Lights) was a refreshing throw-back, while the other (the tepid follow-up Antics) didn’t do anything to enhance the band’s rep. Like the last two albums, this one, too, are aggressively infectious, indistinctly dance-y, and more than a little bit familiar.
The second track, the ridiculously titled “No I in Threesome”, unfortunately seems to mimic nearly every other song on these previous two records. It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, ‘80s-synth-packed, sensitive guy sluggish rock jam. It is boring as hell and predictable, to boot. After the mesmerizing opener, it’s a bitter let down. And this happens only one track into the disc.
The band as a unit is solid enough, and the arrangements are tight, but it’s all essentially unremarkable, there is not any surprise waiting for you past the first five minutes and 46 seconds. The album careens downhill at a breakneck pace, sadly, after the first track.
Tracks like the positively inept “Heinrich Maneuver” (where Banks idiotically ponders “How are things on the West Coast?” with zero sense of irony or humor) could have been on any lame “It” bands’ latest, trashiest, sales-chart-busting album, and practically begs to be used on an MTV reality show during a crucial, emotional moment. What goes down after the second song is going to be a major disappointment to fans that have been waiting three years for new material. This return to the stodgy array of old tricks is perhaps one of the worst musical cop-outs so far this year.
There’s a formless bit of psychedelia thrown in for flavor on “Scale”, that doesn’t really add anything in particular to this disjointed, soulless record. Mid-album listeners are treated to the simmering “Rest My Chemistry”; a slow-burner that starts out promisingly enough, but then dreamily goes absolutely nowhere. It is a shame that they can only hint at their brilliance at this crucial stage, though, in such small doses. Not a very savory selling point for a band that should be a little more seasoned after all of the constant touring they have clocked in the past few years.
But, rejoice! There is a bit of good news! Banks’ voice seems to be getting stronger, and, for once, he is almost decipherable—not that weird imagery such as “you wear the shoes like a dove” or “today my heart swings” will necessarily make you very happy about this turn of events. His sweet little sappy rants might border on the obnoxious, but he’s so scrappy with his delivery that it’s hard to completely hate him. Like a prissy little drama queen or petulant ADHD-riddled child, he commands your attention, shrieks until he gets it, and at least puts on an entertaining show. This record is showcases his voice better than any of Interpol’s previous outings; his delivery is sharp.
More good news: the band has stopped trying to be Joy Division. Only now they’re flaunting all of their influences in our faces, all at once: a lot of R.E.M. (“Mammoth”, in particular reeks of the influential group’s later works), a lot of classic Sonic Youth (the distortion Interpol uses might border on"homage”, though “theft” might be a better word choice). The percussion seems lifted directly from Television (“Pace is the Trick’s drums could have been on Marquee Moon). On the ghostly, vaguely surf-y “Light House” the band’s composition reaches a positively Brian Wilson-esque catharsis. There is more than a taste of current bands like The Arcade Fire strewn amongst the rubble as well. Not that ambitiously aping these great bands is a bad thing, because its not. Interpol may be a band that’s not short on high fashion and artsy-fartsy visual style, but they are, unfortunately, sorely lacking in musical originality at times.
Our Love to Admire is a musical cousin to the recently-released White Stripes’ cd, The Icky Thump: a safe, slick, and shamelessly mediocre retread with a couple of decent songs on it (“Wrecking Ball” is nice, yet meanders ruthlessly), and, like the innocuous “Who Do You Think?” a few really bad ones. They band seems to have built a career on selling us a particularly dour mood, when it is perfectly clear that with their lame attempts at joking and snark on this disc, that they may, in fact, truly desire the evils of mainstream, slicked-out pop music stardom. Don’t let them fool you with all of those black suits and mopey looks, these boys want to conquer the MTV set and all of its floppy-haired teenage-ness.
Still, I would rather see this sort of blatant re-hashing and bastardizing of the New Wave age be popular with the kids today than say, on the equally grotesque (yet no less compelling) pop record of an idiot like, say, Fergie. Perhaps it would behoove the self-serious Interpol (and, for once, surprise the audience) to get bald Britney on the phone to nail down a duet next for time; or maybe they could make a guest appearance on My Super Sweet 16. Then they could finally assert their pedestrian pop trash dreams and sensibilities in the ostentatious way they seem so comfortable with.
Interpol is a really fun band, just one that seems to lack an identity of its own. Our Love to Admire is the perfect soundtrack for an eighth grade dance, but for actual adults who know better, it’s best to avoid this mess.
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// Notes from the Road
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