Review Summary: Certainly a mess, but a fine one
Less than a year after releasing their album Marauder
, the band has decided to take an unusual step - release an EP that is not merely a collection of B-sides or remixes. The said LP seems to have divided the fanbase because of the creative choices - among others, the odd production resulting in a haphazard sound. So, is this release an attempt by the band to come back to their musical roots that would appeal to long-term fans" Hardly. Instead, it feels like a journey further down the road of Marauder's creative direction, but with a more coherent execution that makes this EP a worthy release in its own right.
One listen is enough to reveal that the production is largely the same as on Marauder - gritty guitars, booming bass drums with crisp hi-hats and a layer of distorted vocals, all grouped together to give the songs a loud, bold and almost overwhelming atmosphere. However, this time around it is much easier to make sense of the individual instruments and their contribution to the songs - they are not just a mass of sounds assaulting the listener, but each of them has its place in the mix. Apart from the production, the songwriting themes are also consistent with the previous record. Paul Banks lets go of the mysterious and sometimes unfathomable lyrics from their early days and fully embraces more down-to-earth imagery that exists within the same universe as Marauder. But, it would be a mistake to think the lyrics have become completely straightforward:
''All these secondary lives are telling you
Beat the priestess to the beach tonight
Let them see and let them be beside us''
This alternation of literal and cryptic, along with the overall abrasiveness of the mix, successfully paint the image Banks promised in an interview: 'taking party by the horns'.
As far as instrumentation goes, each member sticks to their signature style. Daniel's simple but effective riffs make up the foundation of songs, such as the sexy staccato of 'Real Life'. Sam is at it again, giving songs like 'The Weekend' more flavour with his precise drumming. The basslines also seem much more prominent (and easier to discern) than on the previous record, as evidenced by the largely bass-driven chorus of 'Fine Mess'. It is no secret that Paul's voice is not as powerful as it used to be, and that nowadays he relies on the higher register. But he has his moments too, for example during the outro of 'No Big Deal' where he harmonizes with himself in an ethereal fashion. Throw this all into the mix and what you get is an unmistakably Interpol sound, but compared to the early days it is less brooding, more bold and sexy in the daring way. If Turn On The Bright Lights painted the landscape of New York's dirty night streets and underground scene, A Fine Mess
is an image of sunset at Miami Beach with all the bravado, glamour and hedonism that belongs to it.
For me, Interpol has always been a 'grower' band; on first listen, their records did not strike me as outstanding. They were certainly interesting, but not breathtaking. I think it's because initially, I missed and misunderstood the nuance behind the band's writing process - their music is not meant to blow you away with its overly complex instrumentation. Instead, it begs the listener to be deconstructed, listened to repeatedly, making the listener appreciate how the individual parts give rise to the whole. What results is a piece whose sound is much more rich than one would predict just from looking at its components. And the same reasoning applies to this Interpol era - perhaps the overall atmosphere has changed and the loud mixing may discourage people from delving deeper into the songs (or, worse yet, fool them into thinking there is nothing more behind the wall of noise) and iIndeed, many fans seem not to enjoy the general 'feel' of recent Interpol music. But I think the band's primary goal here was to use their typical approach to create a new type of atmosphere, paint a picture they haven't done before. And regardless of personal tastes and opinions, they have certainly succeeded in that.