Lush, gothic soundscapes? Rhythm section thrust front and center? Fraught lyrics about love in Gotham? Check, check, and check. Interpol’s new self-titled album has all of their usual hallmarks — so what’s missing?
It’s been eight years since Interpol appeared on the now legendary lower Manhattan music scene of the early naughts. Unlike their disheveled garage rock contemporaries such as the Strokes, the men of Interpol were slick and sleek, black-suited and bolo-tied. Their debut album, “Turn on the Bright Lights,” was an instant classic, immediately grouping the band with a generation of musicians heralded as saviors sent to rescue rock from Limp Bizkit’s stranglehold. Interpol, like their fellows, has been struggling to live that reputation down ever since. When the follow-up “Antics” dropped in 2004, it found acclaim but none of the critical ecstasies heaped upon its predecessor.
A bit of a sophomore slump is par for the course for any hyped band, and Interpol didn’t make their first wrong turn until 2007’s “Our Love to Admire,” an album that saw them leave their home label, Matador, for Capitol Records. The album was a disaster, with the band incorporating elements of an arena rock sound that came off as a heavy-handed grab at major label success. The album got a tepid reception from critics, and while OLtA charted higher than its predecessors, it moved less than half as many copies as Interpol’s previous releases.
Now they’ve returned, humbled and re-signed to Matador, with a self-titled fourth offering, as if to assure us that they’re again the Interpol we fell in love with back in ’02. And, superficially at least, it would seem that they are. “Interpol” is sonically perfect, lovingly mixed by famed British producer Alan Moulder, who’s worked with everyone from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Nine Inch Nails. The attention to detail that on “Our Love to Admire” was sacrificed in favor of bombast is thankfully returned on “Interpol,” a great relief from a band that came perilously close to selling out. But it’s beneath the immaculate exterior that the trouble lies. They may have rediscovered the old Interpol sound, but the songwriting isn’t what it used to be.
“Interpol” comes on strong. The opener, “Success,” is reminiscent of some of the stronger tracks on “Our Love to Admire,” with the classic Interpol sound, but more mass appeal. “Memory Serves” follows the band’s tried and true formula of showcasing bass player Carlos Dengler, which never fails. “Lights” is the album’s strongest track, with Daniel Kessler’s guitar shimmering darkly, and Ian-Curtis-sound-alike Paul Banks’s voice stretched beyond its normal limits. It’s a promising start, but the album falls apart in the second half. On “All of the Ways” and closer “Undoing,” Banks’s previously stretched baritone becomes an irritating whine, and Interpol’s ten tracks begin to feel closer to twenty.
Overall, it’s another disappointment from the princes of dark rock, but big changes may well be ahead. Right after the end of recording for “Interpol,” Dengler the band’s most famous member, announced he was leaving. Interpol, now a trio, seems to be at a crossroads. They’ve lost a defining part of their sound and must decide whether to stick to old formulas or create new ones. I’d suggest the latter — otherwise they may never shake the shadow of the good old days.