One could be forgiven for thinking Interpol would be down and out for the count. Paul Banks’ two alternative rock albums (2009’s Julien Plenti is… Skyscraper and 2012’s Banks) were failures in the eyes of many and, to top it off, he recorded a hip-hop mixtape, in 2013, with the asinine title of Everybody on My Dick like They Supposed to Be. To throw a further spanner in the works, Interpol’s last album, the eponymously titled Interpol from 2010, was their last record with the bass guitar stylings of Carlos Dengler. Dengler had been an important contributor to the band’s sound since their genesis as part of the ‘00s post-punk revival movement (with the likes of The National and The Strokes) and his loss could have been catastrophic. I’ll repeat: one could be forgiven for thinking Interpol would be down and out for the count…
2014, however, marks Interpol’s return; this time with El Pintor. Its title is Spanish (fitting as Paul spent the majority of his formative years living in Madrid, Spain and Álvaro Obregón, Mexico) for ‘The Painter’ and an anagram of the band’s name. It’s fairly clever – if a little on the pretentious side. Alarm bells may be ringing, but let’s give them another go. Without a permanent bassist (due to the loss of Carlos D), Banks is now taking over bass duties and with this, the band have headed in a slightly new direction.
Since 2004 and their second album, Antics, Interpol have been chasing something that still eludes them; a record that stands up to their début, Turn on the Bright Lights. At times, they’ve exhibited the same brilliance with such tracks as 2004’s “Slow Hands”, 2007’s “Pioneer to the Falls” and 2010’s “Lights”, but collections of songs that match up to the album that included “Obstacle 1”, “The New”, “Untitled” and “Say Hello to the Angels” have not presented themselves. 12 years removed from their début’s release. El Pintor, the band’s latest album (released on 08/09) follows suit, in this regard.
Beginning with a romantic poetry, which is fairly commonplace in Interpol’s music, album opener “All the Rage Back Home” starts off in familiar territory for an established listener. Banks croons about how “When she wept, a love come over my head / About, all the feelings” before the pace is quickened (after all, we do know that “Pace is the Trick”) and a heavy bass kicks in. It doesn’t sound anything like Dengler’s work and “All the Rage Back Home”, along with the entirety of El Pintor, shows that the band is going the distance without trying to emulate Carlos D – an admirable thing to do. Fleshing out the song, Banks’ lyrics and bass are layered over quick, precise drums from Sam Foragino and a light central guitar part from Daniel Kessler. It’s new, refreshing and, most importantly, a brilliant way to kick off what many could deem to be the band’s ‘comeback record’.
The first taste of the band’s new album, back in June, came in the form of a live video of “Anywhere” – a song that tells of how Banks feels “So free, my place in the sun, I could go anywhere” and gives vivid imagery with lines such as “This sky is gonna break / Some of us like heroes / At least they’ll never suffer”. It’s a song in their usual style from a band that has a definitive style and way of going about things. Along with a pretty guitar part from Kessler, tantalising non sequitur laden lyrics – that are almost expected from Banks – keep the listener guessing with about what he’s thinking, writing and singing about. This quality is something present in nearly all of Interpol’s music. Banks’ lyrics are one of the most immersive and intriguing idiosyncrasies that can be unearthed in their best compositions and it’s virtuous to see that this is as omnipresent as the ‘Ian Curtis’ in his voice.
The lowest El Pintor sinks is found in the depths of “Ancient Ways” – a monotonous drawl that is introduced by the opening lyric of “Oh, fuck the ancient ways”. From this moment, the song’s tempo and volume neither peaks nor dips. There’s no crescendo or diminuendo to speak of, which makes the song seem to fall flat on its face. This though, despite being the worst moment on the album, would fit in well as a ‘middle-of-the-road’ track on the band’s eponymous work. As it is, though, “Ancient Ways” is where the 2014 incarnation of Interpol finds its darkest moment.
Along with the new direction Interpol have taken, there are definite signs of the familiar on El Pintor. “Breaker 1” goes to great lengths to emulate “Obstacle 1” (in style, as well as name), “Tidal Wave” does its best “Pioneer to the Falls” impression at times, “Twice as Hard” does its best to mimic a fully fleshed out “The Lighthouse”, and “Everything Is Wrong” makes a claim to be the successor to “Barricade” (the former’s “Everything Is Wrong” lyric sharing a fairly similar interpolation (pun not intended) to the latter’s “Sometimes it feels like a barricade”). Despite these qualities that portray past works, El Pintor is as much a look to the future as the past. We now know that Interpol can exist (and thrive) as a three-piece. There are still the obvious Joy Division parallels that can be made in both style and execution – but there’s even some falsetto that creeps in that forms cracks in the usually rigorous Paul Banks/Ian Curtis analogy.
What this album clearly is, is an attempt to get back on track. There are the obvious real world circumstances that led up to this record, but also falling critical and fan acclaim, which has informed a very self-conscious album that goes some of the way to making reparations for the band’s lapse in focus and vision on Interpol. Granted, it isn’t up to the impeccable standards that were found on Turn on the Bright Lights, but it could be argued that El Pintor is the band’s best in a good while – maybe even since their début.
Release: 8th September 2014
Genre: Indie Rock / Post-Punk Revival
Previous Works: Turn on the Bright Lights (2002), Antics (2004), Our Love to Admire (2007) and Interpol (2010)
Contemporaries: The National, The Strokes and Longwave
Influences: Joy Division, The Chameleons and The Cure
You can listen to/watch the video for “All the Rage Back Home” below:
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