Turn On The Bright Lights
Our Love To Admire

Turn On The Bright Lights (Matador ’02) Rating: A-
This young Brooklyn-based band is already being endlessly compared to Joy Division, but though singer Paul Banks does seem to uncannily channel Ian Curtis' ghostly intensity at times, I detect plenty of other influences as well. Oddly enough given the band's New York roots, most of those influences are British, and many of them are unmistakable. For example, the gorgeously dreamy "Untitled" begins the album by recalling Disintegration-era Cure, and "Say Hello To The Angels" sounds like a harder edged version of The Smiths. Ringing guitars laced with echo a la Coldplay appear throughout, and Bowie pops in and out as well. Elsewhere, "Obstacle 1," "PDA," and "Roland" surge forward on great grooves that show off the band's sturdy, hard-hitting rhythm section, which adeptly complements their tense, Television-esque guitar interplay (hooray for NYC bands!). The band's hometown also provides the inspiration for "NYC," an evocative album highlight that's probably my favorite song here along with "Untitled" and the awesomely hard rocking "Obstacle 1." As you can tell by looking at the track listing, the best songs here appear at the beginning, but even after the terrific first four songs this is a consistently strong if somewhat homogenous first set. Truth is, now that we've played "spot the influences", it should also be duly noted that the album's derivative nature and lack of variety (the album seemingly contains only evocative mid-tempo mood pieces or thundering rockers) should only minimally impede your enjoyment of it. At the end of the day, the band's impassioned performances and strong songwriting (perhaps there are a couple of minor misfires on the album’s back end, but nothing to get too upset about) destroys any desire to dismiss them as mere Joy Division wannabees, especially since their songs are generally more lushly arranged and epic than the unforgettable skeletal arrangements customarily favored by that great band.

Antics (Matador ’04) Rating: B+
They may not be the most original or diverse band, but like other bands (Coldplay, The Strokes) who were dogged by comparisons to previous bands, Interpol are really good at what they do. Besides, Interpol starts to forge more of their own identity on this album. A typical Interpol song generally is led by throbbing bass, ringing guitars, steady, simple beats, (sometimes) synths and/or organ, and Paul Banks’ deadpan vocals. Banks has a knack for singable vocal hooks, and a good rhythmic groove a la The Strokes is showcased on songs such as “Evil,” “Narc,” “Length Of Love,” and especially “Slow Hands,” the albums danceable, propulsive, and flat-out rocking first single. By and large this is a consistent second set, containing some songs that are instantly appealing, some growers, and maybe a couple that never really catch on. Other highlights include “Next Exit,” a dreamy yet dirge-like pop ballad, and the decidedly Smiths-y (comparisons may be easier to resist on this album but they’re still there) “C’mre”; when Banks sings “it should be me,” needless to say it isn’t. Still, the overall vibe of this song (and album) is far from depressing, though perhaps Antics does get rather monotonous at times, especially during its lackluster mid-section (“Not Even Jail,” “Public Pervert”). Likewise, the final song, “A Time To Be So Small” doesn’t end the album on the high note I had hoped for. Still, I wouldn’t call any of these songs (or the also-not-as-memorable “Take You On A Cruse”) bad, merely nondescript, and the band always sounds good even when the songwriting isn't up to snuff; again, the difference between decent and good Interpol lies mostly in the quality of the vocal hooks. All in all, though its peaks certainly don't rise as high as those on Turn On The Bright Lights, nor is the overall vibe quite as enticing, this was still a stylish, rock solid second album that solidified Interpol’s status as a top second tier band. It’s likely that Interpol will never be among the crème de la crème, but they certainly seem poised to be among the best of the rest for a while.

Our Love To Admire (Capitol ’07) Rating: B
Interpol's major-label debut initially stormed the Billboard charts but faded fast, as the album lacked an obvious hit single and was greeted with lukewarm reviews from both fans and critics alike. In some ways the band reminds me of The Strokes in that they seem to be following a similar career arc: release a great "instant classic" debut, followed by a really good but clearly not as good follow up, followed by an ambitious, "difficult," much-misunderstood third album. Still, like that third Strokes album Our Love To Admire is a grower, and in some ways it shows advancement in the way that the band adds keyboards and sonic depth (lyrics remain a weakness) to what remains an instantly appealing sound. True, very few of these songs stand out at first (or second, or third) glance, but there are plenty of surprises in store, which makes the album interesting (if still extremely flawed) over the long haul. The surprising starts and stops on "Pioneer To The Falls" (a standout first track as per usual) shows that the band are into being a bit more unconventional this time out, as does the false ending on "The Heinrich Maneuver," the way the vocals are mixed way back at the beginning of "Mammoth" (my pick for the album's best song), and the way "Wrecking Ball" stops abruptly in mid-song. Then again, this album still sounds very much like Interpol, as evidenced by the pretty guitars of "No I in Threesome" (did I mention that lyrics remain a weakness?) and "Pace Is The Trick," as well as the harsher riffs on "The Scale" and "All Fired Up." The band's patented bass rumble is also present, as is Banks who is in predictably fine form. Again, the biggest problem with the album is that the songs aren't all that memorable, though they sound good enough while playing. I mean, "Rest My Chemistry" has nice ringing riffs but its chorus ("tonight I'm going to rest my chemistry") doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, and there's not much melody-wise to the moody album closer "The Lighthouse," though the band still does moody quite well. All in all, I can see why the band's fans were disappointed, especially given the high expectations that the band's previous albums had earned them, but Our Love To Admire is another solid album provided you put in the necessary time to get properly acquainted with it.

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