Review Summary: Any listener that spins this album would be more apt to turn off the bright lights as they drift to sleep in its presence.
“Underwhelming” isn’t a term I like to use. For one thing, any number of words can say the same thing without being so specific as to “fail to excite, stimulate, and impress.” Moreover, the word is fairly easy to misuse; just because you already knew that the narrator was Tyler didn't make the book any less enjoyable. The disparity between something not meeting lofty expectations and actually underwhelming you proves as big as the amount of idiots that use irony in lieu of coincidence (thanks, Alanis.) At one point or another, though, every word stumbles upon a situation where it can be attributed to perfectly, and underwhelming is no different. In this case, Interpol’s debut Turn On the Bright Lights
does just that: it fails to excite, stimulate, or impress.
The album opens with a few twanging notes that echo over lonely-sounding synth fuzz, emanating a sort of tired floatiness that barely manages to hold up as the sound progresses. It almost hangs in the stratosphere, wanting to be more than it is but not getting enough wind under the proverbial sails to raise it up to that level. A repetitive drum beat nigh shatters that feeling, making itself obnoxiously heard. Underneath it, the rest of the instruments fizzle out, their inebriated air closely following. Such an odd, stiff shift is almost jarring to the listener (which is good in a way, since they’ve probably drifted off by now.) This collective thirty seconds proves a preface to the lack of focus TotBL possesses. Tracks unnaturally bounce between moods, which would be perfectly fine had the album any façade of flow. Unfortunately, peppering half-upbeat songs like Say Hello to the Angels
and Obstacle 1
amongst the more prevalent, subdued sound doesn’t work all that well. Opposing melodies can trounce a listener's patience early on, or merely leave them absolutely puzzled once it's all said and done.
Speaking of, the songs that earn the label of “subdued” definitely live up to it. Many tracks feature annoyingly similar aspects, one being the swoopy vocals Paul Banks delivers. Every single track has two settings on which Banks can sing: either he drones the lyrics in Microsoft Sam-style monotone, or decides to sing every other note in an opposing octave, cresting and crashing too much to be considered vocal control. Yet, it is always foremost in the sound, followed closely by whatever instrument is getting its fifteen seconds of spotlight, locking the music within a certain boundary it cannot escape in this state. Guitar licks are usually simple, which surprisingly isn’t that bad. In doing so, they leave room open for some creativity, however scarce it may seem due to the fact that the licks repeat more than is preferred. Bass and drums bear the same symptoms, aside from their often being delegated to the back burner sound-wise. Altogether, this meshes into a sleepy mess reminiscent of post0curtis Joy Division. Said affinity is reserved more for dark, Brothers-Grimm-infused lullabies than than the result of a week-long recording session. So, overly stiff tone-hopping is a syringe, filled with the sedative of boring song structure; the production value pushes the plunger. Almost every sound is abnormally soft at times, except one particular instrument that seems to fluctuate every few seconds. Vocals drown in fuzziness, which only adds to their droning nature (at least it tends to buffer the rise-and-fall style.) In fact, it almost goes to the point of annoyance, like that of a bee's low buzz echoing in one's ear. If not for the tin-can production, the instruments conceivably would not be in such a snafu; one could pick up when a cool bassline comes in or that clever little fill in the middle of song X that gives it charm. What a disappointment it is to think what could have been, if not for so many little things gone wrong with the music.
First impressions never impress everyone. Even the best will be met negatively. To some, Turn on the Bright Lights
could be considered an opus of alternative rock and the elusive gem of Interpol’s career. Others will find it a throwaway alternative to a coaster, better suited to balancing cups than assaulting the senses. Tedious at best, TotBL looks for a way to stand and deliver, yet finds itself giving up and settling into the chair of mediocrity.
Now then, excuse me while I look up "objective" in a dictionary.