Having briefly drunk the waters of the major-label well before spending a few years divided to pursue outside projects, millennial post-punk heroes Interpol have gotten back to basics. Following their sole release for Capitol Records, Our Love To Admire, Interpol’s self-titled fourth album finds them returning to a motif that once made them such an exciting and intriguing band. Released on their original label home at Matador, Interpol is low on fat, running 45 minutes in ten tracks, and even strips the cover art’s color scheme down to a bare and gloomy black and grey.
It’s hard not to interpret such steps as a concerted effort on Interpol’s part to distance themselves from their disappointing 2007 effort, even if the differences are primarily subtle ones. Minor as they may be, however, those differences are just strong enough to set their latest apart from its glossier predecessor. The mood here ranges from the fierce to the funereal, ultimately standing as one of the band’s darker albums, which, coming from a group so often compared to Joy Division, says quite a bit. Credit for this alternately jagged and ethereal atmosphere is largely due to producer Alan Moulder, whose emphasis on the rhythm section makes these ten songs feel much more animated and punchy, which seems almost ironic given the recent departure of bassist Carlos D.
The strongest display of this direct, rhythmic approach is displayed on the outstanding first track, “Success.” Like a cousin to Turn On The Bright Lights‘ “Obstacle 1,” it pulses and pounds, but not without a bit of ethereal intrigue. Its haunted, minor key intro has the makings of a lost post-punk single, yet the song only grows more intense as it progresses. The danger in pushing this song up to track one is that it leaves a steep hurdle for the remaining tracks to overcome, and inevitably, not all of them quite make it. The slow build of “Lights” takes a while to find its footing, and ultimately feels a bit too drawn out to satisfy. A bit more appealing is the driving dance-punk single “Barricade,” which is far catchier, but a bit too familiar to make the leap from good to great.
As oddly underwhelming as the album’s first two singles are, several of Interpol‘s songs stand as some of the best material the band’s written in half a decade. “Summer Well” is morosely sexy, with faint touches of piano twinkling beneath the band’s vapor trails of guitar and Paul Banks’ yearning lyrics, “I miss you babe/ I want you back/ The signs we gave/ weren’t those signs supposed to last.” Piano is put to even greater use on the dramatic and funereal goth ballad “Always Malaise (The Man That I Am)”, while the closing trio of songs conclude the album on a succession of high notes, from the snapping loops of “Try It On,” to the swelling arrangement of “All of the Ways” and the more spiritually driven “The Undoing.”
The events surrounding the release of Interpol, from Carlos D’s departure to the leap back to Matador Records, marks it as something of a transitional album. With the make-up of the band altered, Interpol may very well take this as an opportunity to pursue something quite different than the dark and dramatic post-punk they’ve been polishing for the past decade. Yet while Interpol doesn’t quite recapture the magic of their debut, it offers a trip into the band’s darker, more intriguing corners. Just like the tailored suits that they’ve donned since 2002, Interpol wears nuance quite well.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.