Review Summary: Released four years after the actual album, El Pintor Bonus Tracks quietly features two of their best, and cleanest, songs since their heyday.El Pintor
was a stark contrast to Interpol's meandering previous releases, 2007’s difficult and morose major-label fumble Our Love to Admire
and 2010’s insular, tuneless self-titled album. After those disappointments, there was a palpable sense that the one time critical darlings had to bring the heat with whatever they released after, and El Pintor
delivered. It was purposeful, passionate, and extremely melodic, but many of its best songs had a blurry, malleable quality to them: verses sliding into a chorus whenever it felt like it, multiple bridges and detours, choruses being served up a bit differently each time (see "My Blue Supreme" or "Breaker 1"). As strong of an album as it was, it was still a far cry from the concise songwriting of, say, Antics
. It’s an approach that is certainly rewarding after repeated listens, but it's not unreasonable to wonder if they were overwriting their material on El Pintor
due to the high stakes. Curiously, four years after that album’s release, El Pintor Bonus Tracks
was quietly shuffled onto streaming services. Maybe these three songs were written deliberately as bonus tracks, or weren’t developed as far as the band wanted, but the simpler arrangements and structures fit Interpol well and are more than a little relieving.
"The Depths" is quintessential midtempo Interpol gloom. Sam Fogarino’s powerful and rigid drums drive the verses forward as Daniel Kessler’s poignant guitar chords sharply chime out. Paul Banks offers up some classic Banksisms ("If I met a waitress, could she turn me on?/Like I got the time to let her know me"), and a touching yet dejected chorus, featuring one of the best utilizations of his hit-or-miss falsetto. It’s one of the most nakedly melodic moments from Interpol in years. And though it trails off a bit with an extended guitar solo outro that’s pleasant if not speaker-igniting, it’s a more instantly memorable track than anything since, like… "Evil". The (relatively) uptempo "Malfeasance" features a promising desert-rock riff and nimble bass playing bordering on funk, but sags under a poor vocal performance in the verses and an overall lack of cohesion, sounding like a song culled from several promising sketches they couldn’t really get to gel. The lyrics are undercooked too, with Banks repeatedly moaning "An eye for an eye/Leaves the whole world blind" during the final bridge, presumably a placeholder for non-cliché lyrics that never came.
"What Is What" is the real standout here, seeing Interpol finally fulfilling the promise implied from their jump to a major label: catchy, more embracing of pop, mired in a melancholic fog but hardly dour. It’s one of their most immediate choruses, going full "Bizarre Love Triangle" with four-on-the-floor drums, guitar and bass locked in octave interplay, and a melody that teeters between sorrow and joy. Banks tunefully sings about being secure enough with a new partner to reveal something hidden about himself (my very safe guess? It’s sexual), and honestly he sounds great, his falsetto here more emotional and vulnerable than the early, stentorian days. Filtered through their signature icy post-punk, this hard-hitting pop tune handily shows that Interpol would be better off abandoning the murky, vague songwriting they’ve been chasing since Our Love to Admire
and going back to writing actual hooks. It’s also one of the only instances I can think of where Interpol could reasonably be described as "upbeat", or even "fun". It's not a bad look for them at all.
Though slight, El Pintor Bonus Tracks
contains two very strong tracks that easily rank with their best post-comedown work, achieving a sublime mix of classic dark atmosphere and more straightforward songwriting. It makes me hope that Interpol continue exploring a more accessible pop side. Tellingly, I’ve gone back to "The Depths" and "What Is What" far more than anything on Marauder,
the full-length album they released the same year that dives back headfirst into muddy, indistinct production, unmemorable songwriting, and a generally bloated and joyless feeling−a far cry from the immediacy shown on El Pintor Bonus Tracks