When Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights emerged nearly two years ago, Joy Division comparisons were easy to make. There was, after all, the band’s veneer of dark distant cool, a sort of sombre hope that much of the rock revivalists garnering press at the time lacked. And of course there was the haunting monotone tremor of singer Paul Banks, which was very readily looped in with the tortured vox of Ian Curtis (sceptics have even used the oft-derided name of famed, uh, vocalist, Ringo Starr).
And though the shift on their second full length doesn’t hit you over the head, Banks’ vocals have subtly changed, instantly sounding friendlier and friendlier with the reduction in echoed reverb. It was an effect that was probably needed to stake any claim for sound or song writing progression, but it’s one that makes him — and by extension the band — come across as more human and likeable.
“Next Exit”, the album’s first track, shows this and manages to sound lighter than almost anything on their debut. On first listen it’s also catchier and more melodic than anything they’ve done, which makes for a bewitching opening that sets an anxious precedent for the rest. Here Banks proclaims “We ain’t going to the town, we’re going to the city”, and rightfully the accompanying music sounds both as bewitching as a city centre at night, and as oddly hopeful, with guitarist Daniel Kessler’s reverb and delay-soaked Hawaiian touches subtly adding to the feeling of travel.
“Evil” may be the most surprising number (at least for those who have not heard the live MP3s floating around), as it veers away from much of the established Interpol formula, and is one of the first to feature a much more upbeat tempo. Most thrilling are the pop-flirting verses, where the band stops briefly to allow Banks to hauntingly ask “Hey, who’s on trial?” Combined with the choral build-ups, these verses show off a sort of thrilling self-assurance that only continues with “Narc”, the third song on the album, and another with an up-tempo, danceable beat in addition to slight reggae touches toward its end. Followed by the opaque, sombrely touching “Take You on a Cruise” (one of the few that sounds like a leftover, sound-wise, from the first album), this is one of the strongest album openings I’ve heard in a long time, and one that only seems to improve with repeated listens.
Altogether the album’s feel is much more lively, bouncy, and accessible, and in combination with the band’s ubiquitous ambient underpinnings, the upbeat tone often makes this collection inspiring. It is as if the darker reaches of Interpol were trying hard to keep their inner disco (or electroclash) hidden. When the ability to be lush, spooky and danceable are negotiated properly — as on the aforementioned songs and including highlights like “Not Even Jail”, and “Public Pervert” — Interpol manages to sound as timeless as the bands they’ve been accused of ripping off.
If there is something to question though, it’s the selection of “Slow Hands” as the first single, which — when heard in the context of this album’s “first side” — is perplexing. It’s no doubt a strong song, though one that feels oddly unmoving in spite of the energetic electro beat maintained by the quartet’s rhythm section of Sam Fogorino and Carlos D. This might be a problem with much of the album, though; after the greatness of the album’s initial promise, there is a dip later on, and many of the sounds begin to blend into each other. “C’mere” and “Length of Love” feel particularly spent and unimaginative. Of course this might just be the band having to compete with itself, and either way, the dip is relieved by the album’s final track, the wonderfully moody and evocative “A Time to be Small”, where guitarist Kessler once again supplies a series of winningly beautiful guitar lines.
At 10 songs the album feels short, even when most of the songs are long, hovering as they do around the four and five minute mark. Nevertheless, it has a sort of hit-and-run playability, and it paints an intriguing picture of the band’s future, one free from comparisons. Of course, even if that never happens, fans of the band should be pleased. Antics is a winner.