Rating: 2 stars (out of five)
All bands are indebted to others from the past, but there are some who seem unavoidably linked to one particular influence. Interpol is one such case, as one can’t ever read more than about two lines of a review without hearing the name Joy Division pop up. They have been an integral band in the post-punk/new-wave revival of the 2000s, but while bands such as Franz Ferdinand and The Arctic Monkeys have leaned towards a danceable version of the latter, Interpol tries to stick firmly in the post-punk, Joy Division-esque sound.
The problem with this, though, is that, while they do sound like Joy Division, they don’t really sound like Joy Division. The comparisons are not terribly misguided, but Interpol simply lacks the sonic innovation, lyrical depth, and sheer originality of their forefathers. Joy Division was always intensely dramatic; yet Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol’s widely-praised debut album, lacks sufficient dramatic heft–the critical failing. The album sounds too slight, too small, too superficial for its dark sound, and lead singer Paul Banks’s lyrics veer towards amateurish.
All of this contributes towards the listener wanting to experience Bright Lights as a poppier version of post-punk, but that goal is ruined by the utter lack of melody found on the album. Banks is trying to force a melody on songs like “Obstacle 1,” “Say Hello to the Angels,” and “Obstacle 2,” but there’s nothing there. Even a pretty ending, such as that of “Roland,” is ruined by the horribly muddled rest of the song. In short, Interpol are caught in no-man’s land, too tentative to approach the starkly dramatic heights of their idols but too nondescript and amelodic to produce something more casually enjoyable.
Though Interpol’s sound is suitably “dark,” it’s not foreboding and overwhelming the way Joy Division’s is. One reason for this difference, perhaps, lies in the efforts of Banks and fellow guitarist Daniel Kessler. The beginning of opener “Untitled” sounds like Explosions in the Sky; at other times (“PDA”) the guitar parts recall Coldplay. In other words, the icy, oppressive, spacious style of JD’s Bernard Albrecht gets pushed aside in favor of more modern styles that don’t fit the rest of the band’s sound. It’s this critical distinction that is partially responsible for the insignificant feel of too much of the album.
The most frustrating track is “NYC,” which starts off pretty but is soon muddled behind a weak chorus too often repeated, poor and incomplete lyrics, and an overall feeling that we don’t need to take the song seriously enough. Banks’s lyrics in particular grate; he claims that he’s tired of being lonely, yet someone who did everything for him did not impress him. Such a seeming contradiction might be possible to understand with more explanation; but otherwise, we’re simply left confused.
I couldn’t ever shake that feeling with Turn on the Bright Lights that, by sometime around the eighth song, it all started to blur together—similarly amelodic songs, with a vague undercurrent of darkness but no distinction or muscle. Interpol simply doesn’t possess the musical originality to make up for its other flaws.