Review Summary: I don’t want realism. I want magic
If 9/11 could be described as simultaneously the ending of the post-War American Dream and the day that the devastating impact of modern technology hit home against its most active promoter, then Interpol's 'Turn On the Bright Lights', recorded barely 2 months after the incident, is one of the albums that most keenly capture the existential crisis and disillusionment of Noughties America, and to a wider extent the entire Western civilisation.
The listener is immediately confronted by a sense of loss and disorientation by the opening track 'Untitled', with its sparse and desolate opening riff and barely present lyrics that speak of a 'surprise' that 'will come around'. Nothing much need be said in this world where progress has stalled and history is repeating itself with manifestations of never-ending violence.
The escapism we can offer as a riposte to the chaos of the wider world is through our immediate intimate relationships, but in Interpol's world this too is fraught with difficulty and strife. Love is presented as distant and forever an empty promise, captured by the twinned song titles 'Obstacle 1' and 'Obstacle 2'. In the first the narrator, 'poor and aging', speaks of a lover who 'puts the weight into my little heart', despite the fact that 'her stories are boring and stuff'. Perhaps this narrator is a metaphor for America, a fading world-power increasingly paranoid about the world it exists in, falling into irrelevance like Blanche Dubois - clinging onto former glories and making do with less than glamorous allies. In the latter, these emotions of longing turn desperate and sinister, the aging beau lashing out against the incomprehensible target of his desires, vowing to 'pull you in close gonna wrap you up tight', while convincing himself that his ends justifies his means - 'it took time then I found you.'
The frequent hints at destruction and the macabre throughout the album ('she was alright because the sea was so airtight', 'each night, I bury my love around you', 'pavements they are a mess') culminates most clearly in 'Roland', a study on a Sweeney Todd style serial killer - 'my best friend's a butcher, he has sixteen knives/he severed segments and secretly liked that', perhaps a biting piece of satire against American fascination and admiration for killers and brutalism, and the ethos of might is right.
This frenetic whirlwind through intense emotions of love, hate, fear and violence ends on a tame note with 'Leif Erikson', a track which answers the questions 'Untitled' posed at the beginning of the album with a combination of wistful acceptance and futile resistance. 'The clock is set for nine but you know you’re gonna make it eight' is as close as we can get to turning back time to bygone splendour. There is also acknowledgement at last of vulnerability, 'She swears I’m just prey to the female, well then hook me up and throw me, baby cakes, 'cos I like to get hooked.' We may live in the dying days of Western dominance, but we may as well enjoy one last throw of the dice, one last turn to play host of the party, one last chance to turn on those bright lights.