Review Summary: Dark, seductive and heavy. It will turn your stereo into a fine Italian coffee machine.
Everything I read about Interpol at the time of this album's release mentioned comparisons to Joy Division. Apart from some superfluous vocal similarities, the two acts have little in common. While both bands trade in some dark theatrics, and sport a distinctive rhythm section, Joy Division created atmosphere with the space between their minimal arrangements. On 'Turn on the Bright Lights', Interpol operates with the driving concept of density. I remember reading a comment from a forum where someone said "No-one really sounds like Interpol". On careful reflection, I have to agree that they transcended the sum of their influences - at least in 2002.
Watching live footage of Interpol, one can't really reconcile Paul Banks' preppy looks (even in a natty suit) with the organic, wistful power of the band. Let's face it - Interpol has a massive engine in Carlos D and Samuel Fogarino. That engine is placed in the misty setting of Katis and Jones's production. What production it is. Seldom have I heard an album with such a cohesive sonic vision that does not outstay its welcome.
The record locks in every nuance of Interpol's organic chemistry. It's sort of like a dark chocolate milkshake where the spoon does not just stand up when you let go - the spoon slowly implodes from the deceptive weight of the dairy.
Opener 'Untitled' introduces an ambiguous guitar line - tense, yet languid. When the drums kick in and the bass unwinds from the tree branch, it's pretty much gorgeous, and I hate that word. The song bounces along, as if it's looking at the earth from the surface of the moon. The hang time between leaps is remarkable. When the vocal introduces itself, it's soft, like a park in winter early in the morning. When you draw air, you are obscured by your own breath. This is a majestic song, made from little more than a tiny spark of guitar on top of the backing.
'Obstacle 1' is a suitable jagged follow up - the violence of the lyrics, the desperate vocal crushed by the weight of the layers and a slight step behind music. And it has moments - those indefinable breaks that just work. Lyrically, Interpol often get labelled as nonsense writers. I think they have an interesting sensibility - I'm never bored and find little snatches of poetry amidst the words that hit harder than many a more considered lyricist
'NYC' is a classic, drenched in regret and a flat inflection that soars when the chorus kicks in. It opens with soft, full strumming, and then grows into an expansive beat. Parts sound like a strange reworking of the crooner era, but then there are shards of feedback to firmly place the song in context. That strange clash and the beautiful, uplifting finale are inspired. 'PDA' moves on the album with that locked in drive and bratty counterpoint vocals in the strangely joyful chorus. The surprise restart at the end expands and contracts, then bursts with a finish that will bring a smile to your face.
'Say hello to the angels' continues in the same vein of 'PDA', but increases the energy and removes the smooth edges. Another major difference between Joy Division and Interpol is the thematic contrast - Interpol has a sensual feel, often exploring the passing of youth and the slow growth of responsibility. But in between, you still get that playful burst reminiscent of a night when you throw caution to the wind. Paul Banks intones "move into my airspace" and you can picture his paramour doing so with a wry smile.
'Hands Away' is a quiet prayer, meandering into a prolonged instrumental outro that grows more focused in the final moments - it's a lovely way to break the album into half.
'Obstacle 2' is a lazy, debauched swing, with the cocky lyrics, picking up momentum and ending in a blurred hot mess (and that's a good thing). Nothing like a little howling under the mix to create something special. 'Stella' is a long, visual journey - the band allows themselves one moment to loosen up completely and let the song fill the space as it chooses. 'Roland' is the hardest song on the album, a little blast of lightning after the epic 'Stella'.
'The New' is the sobering up in the morning, each minute yielding a new texture or musical idea, and finishing with insistent, plaintive chords.
The final song, 'Leif Erikson', is my personal favourite - reconciling themes of lust, fidelity, commitment and love with an incredible metaphor of longboats and exploration. It's so simple, and perfectly paced. Regular chord changes swell with subtly added hooks and the bridges sound like little rivers of introspection. The addition on this song culminates in a dramatic, massive climax that epitomises the density of this album, which lives in your earphones or assumes a space with conviction if you let it out in the world.