When a band releases a self-titled LP, it usually means one of two things: the record is either a debut (The Smiths, The Modern Lovers, Suede) or a brazen follow-up to an alleged masterwork (Portishead after Dummy, Broken Social Scene after You Forgot It In People, Liars after Drum’s Not Dead, etc).
Interpol’s Interpol is neither of these. But, tactically, it’s easy to see why the band would decide to drop the eponym bomb at this point in time. Ever since Interpol debuted with the classic Turn on the Bright Lights in 2002, the group has been at the raw end of a struggle for artistic ingenuity.
2004’s Antics, while an incredibly solid record, was essentially just a stripping-down and cleaning-up of the outfit’s signature goth-grooving, with a shift in emphasis from hazy doomsday catharsis to lighter, mid-tempo riffing — a trick the band could only pull once.
2007’s Our Love to Admire was the true red flag. The album’s vapid attempt to recapture the emotional intensity of Bright Lights resulted in an incredibly mixed bag of hair-raising head-boppers (“The Heinrich Maneuver,” “Mammoth”) and laughably contrived “menace” (“Pioneer To The Falls,” “All Fired Up”).
Interpol is Interpol’s first true crack at legitimately retooling its sound instead of simply revamping it. Moreover, the album is the band’s most serious sonic effort since its debut. While there are flashes of the shadowy riffing and grooving that define Interpol’s aesthetic, the record is undeniably the band’s most experimental outing to date, flaunting an otherworldly exoticness that was only hinted at superficially on Our Love to Admire.
First, Interpol easily contains two contenders for strongest song of 2010. Album-opener “Success” and lead single “Barricade” are both tendon-tightening tours de force, coming the closest to the Interpol of yore without cashing in on remixed nostalgia. Both tracks pump like well oiled pistons, building jaw-droppingly propulsive grooves out of spaced-out, in-the-pocket instrumentation, testifying to the fact that the band is at its finest when focusing on sinisterly funky drum-and-bass-and-double-guitar chemistry.
While the rest of Interpol never really matches the grand-slam-ness of those two tracks, it packs a handful of similarly stellar growers. “Memory Serves” is like a sexy foray into a satanic strip club, constantly threatening to short-circuit on its tight, circular rhythms while stealthily building steam. And “Lights” could be the most intricate song the band has ever recorded, starting out with little more than Paul Bank’s funereal vocals and austere guitar churning and seamlessly evolving into a goliath of jagged arpeggios and open-hi-hat drum pummeling.
Unfortunately, all of the aforementioned songs fall on the first half of the album. After “Barricade,” Interpol slumps into a murky sludge of pseudo-balladry that continues the album’s vein of unbridled darkness and sonic mystique but fails to balance it out with instrumental dynamism or pop sensibility.
“Try It On” mashes together Andrew Bird-style whistling with glitchy stutter-synths and a tense, wintry piano loop that feels straight out of a dog sledding documentary, epitomizing the album’s penchant for bizarre juxtapositions that don’t quite click. The song — and much of the album’s second half — is all pile-up without any of the band’s traditional gut-punchy acrobatics, sounding like it could have been assembled from loops. By the time Banks is mariachi-ing in Spanish over a bit-crushed drumbeat and retro, horn-style synths on closer “The Undoing,” the term “shock value” has effectively lost all of its meaning.
Ironically, on Interpol, the band’s weirdness quotient is almost in direct proportion to its drabness quotient. While the album’s latter half is chock-full of on-paper experimentation, it comes across as a mopey skip-a-thon of all gloom and no bite; the drumming is either canned or nonexistent and the basslines do little more than keep time and underline Bank’s vocals — a virtual crime, considering Interpol has one of the juiciest rhythm sections in indie rock today. One can only hope that Interpol is more of an awkward transition album and less of a dead end.