Considering the details surrounding Interpol’s self-produced self-titled fourth album, their first since 2007’s Our Love To Admire, it’s safe to assume that in some way or another it was intended to be a return to their early form. They’ve went back to Matador. The artwork’s basic. They have no need for a fancy/eye-catching title: These are the same guys, Interpol, who popped up in NYC in 1997 with their downcast, uplifting post-punk revivalism. The thing is — even in the midst of a music industry that’s using reunions as a life support system and would want you to think otherwise — you can never go back.
For starters, Carlos D — one-time Downtown stud/gossip fodder/fashion plate — plays bass on these 10 tracks, is gone in real life. As seen on Letterman, he’s been replaced by ex-Slint/current jack-of-all-bands player Dave Pajo. More importantly, Interpol are bringing their post-punk revival into a world that looks quite different than it did in 1997 (or even their 10th anniversary, 2007). More than ever, folks are inventing insular stay-at-home genres that flourish on the backs of one-person bands. There’s definitely been a goth explosion in 2010, but those bands are referencing Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, and the Chameleons (wait, has your average chillwaver heard the Chameleons?) in more dressed down, dirty, idiosyncratic, punk ways.
Interpol is an understated, staid record. You’ve heard a bunch of it — albeit some of it live and others via a rotten leak — so you know that. We’ve had people commenting on a perceived lack of hooks. Others saying maybe those folks should wait to hear the album in its entirety before rushing to judgment. But the officially released “Lights” and “Barricade” and less-than-official “Memory Serves,” “Success,” and “Summer Well,” etc., are out there. What happens when you sit through “Success” to “The Undoing”? Is there any Carlos D-spun magic?
It’s dark. There are layers and moody ambiance. It’s patient. There aren’t giant choruses. But Paul “Always Malaise” Banks is Paul “Always Malaise” Banks. In some ways Interpol is sturdier than Our Love To Admire — the songs do stick together, blend into background as one — but as a result, it doesn’t offer as many surefire “singles.” If you’re a big Interpol fan you’ll be happy to have more sounds from them. (If you’ve never been a big Interpol fan you’ll keep wondering why there are big Interpol fans.)
The casual listener may notice that what used to be angular feels mushy at this point. That where things used to build slowly to some sort of dynamic shift, they plod. They sound like Interpol, but they don’t manage to move or send shivers. There’s also less space for Banks’s vocals, and D’s basslines no longer cut through like the scissors he used on that perfect hairdo. A certain sharpness remained on Our Love To Admire, as did memorable guitar and basslines, so maybe we can blame the band’s production as much as their songwriting. They’ve returned to their original home, chose that simple self-titled route, but ended up overworking the production. For such sharp-dressed dudes, they’re responsible for a messy, muddled outing. (They’re also responsible for making 45 minutes feel longer than 45 minutes.) In the end, despite the opulent image, Interpol sound better the less they do.
Interpol is out 9/7 via Matador.