Review Summary: Turn on the Bright Lights depicts a bleak atmosphere of loneliness in a world that is slowly closing in and poses a plan to escape that world.
One thing I've never truly experienced is city life. Sure, I've visited the Big Apple and walked around in awe as I look upon the sheer scale of the buildings that outreach the stratosphere, the thousands of unrecognizable faces, and the endless opportunities, but I've never known what it is like to feel genuinely trapped by all of it. I've always been nothing more than an innocuous onlooker. However, when I listen to Turn on the Bright Lights, it's as if I've trudged through the dimly lit back alleys of Manhattan only to be jumped by bleak and unforgiving isolation. So once the album reaches its conclusion, I get it; I've experienced it firsthand.
Interpol's first album is all about the atmosphere. Within the first few seconds of "Untitled", you're already in the middle of it all. The layered guitars paint a colorful picture of towering skyscrapers and a realm of infinite proportions. With persistent finesse, the track takes off almost immediately and never lets up. Meanwhile, the vivacious guitar wails capture the radiance of an imposing, mysterious environment. From there, Turn on the Bright Lights is a purpose-driven post-punk experience. Due to Interpol's artistic sensibility and the album's skillful production, everything about this LP sounds crisp and smooth.
Paul Banks's baritone vocals are an acquired taste, but once Interpol allows its steadfast, expansive instrumentation to coalesce, his voice truly complements the band's all-encompassing sound with notable efficacy. On "NYC", the album's most atmospheric song, the transcendent guitars blanket the listener as Banks croons about the unbearable loneliness of the city. It immediately becomes clear that Interpol is not glorifying its hometown. Hearing the band as they deconstruct the sometimes wretched lifestyle of a young city man makes this LP all the more meaningful. The audacity of this record lies in the band's willingness to expose their vulnerability.
On tracks like "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down" and "Roland", the band delivers forceful percussion, launching the guitars and even the mumbling bass lines into a state of celestial potency. Through and through, this album is pure escapist bliss. This assortment of songs showcases the band's more delicate side, like on "The New" and "Leif Erikson", which together, comprise a perfect denouement to a dark and rather dismal glimpse into the world of urban isolation, as well as Interpol's loud and vehement musical statements, like "PDA" and "Obstacle 1".
On "Say Hello to the Angels", Banks utters, "I'm sick of this town and I've seen my faces change," signifying a sense of true conviction and a desire to shatter the enclosing walls of desperation. The track gives the album a sturdy backbone and establishes a critical tone for the rest of the LP. Flowing nicely from beginning to end, Turn on the Bright Lights recalls earlier bands like Joy Division, but also brings a noticeable polish that gives the album its own distinctive personality.
Turn on the Bright Lights, despite its dark backdrop, is a deeply sentimental experience. The album provides a safe haven for feelings of hopelessness and despondency, while not sticking to any formal comfort zone. As Interpol's shining moment, this LP has left a sizable legacy that deserves your time and attention.
Say Hello to the Angels
Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down