The story of Interpol is a twisting tale to tell. Starting in 2002 with stunning debut ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’, a brilliant follow up in ‘Antics’ and then diminishing returns (at least in terms of review scores) until internal turmoil and the departure of founding bassist Carlos D. Returning as a three piece, Interpol have a lot to prove.
However if you give three guys as talented as Interpol the chance and motivation to prove something they’re likely going to prove it. With fifth album ‘El Pintor’ (both an anagram of Interpol and Spanish for ‘the painter’, clever stuff) they’ve gone way beyond proving it. There’s almost a conscious manifesto on the album, returning to familiar tropes at times, showing off new tricks at others, underlining almost every decision, each made correctly.
Within a minute and a half of opener ‘All The Rage Back Home’ the trio find a gear they’d not risen to in over a decade. Paul Banks’ lyrics have found a directness and storytelling eloquence that sees some of his fondness for linguistic absurdity left behind. There’s no clutter here. That’s true in the instrumentation too as guitars, bass (played by Banks) and drums travel at an unstoppable momentous pace in what becomes a towering inferno of an introduction to the album. ‘My Desire’ and ‘Anywhere’ are hints towards the intricate, entrancing guitar lines from Daniel Kessler that lit up ‘Antics’. The strongest vocal performance from Banks is perfectly showcased in the chorus for ‘Same Town New Story’ which offers possibly the most emotional and delicate chorus the band has ever created. They find their darkest, rawest power in ‘Breaker 1’ and ‘Ancient Ways’ as a formidable pair of intense songs. The former is a building, dense textured story with the misty refrain of “Come back, come back, I’m a warning” drifting through every chink in its thick walls of sound. The latter, propelled along by Sam Fogarino’s unfaltering drums, can be perfectly encapsulated by the first line of its breakneck speed chorus – “Oh, fuck the ancient ways!”
Interpol have been able to map out a stunning marriage of the intensity and depth of the first half of their career with the grandeur and drama of the second half. There’s an incredibly heavy atmosphere of control, as if each member is existing in the exact role they can thrive in, as a thrilling part of a greater sum. But each sure step gently builds into a pronounced swagger, as the New Yorkers once again discover that unshakable confidence and composure in the face of despair.
With Interpol there was always a sense they had a certain unquantifiable something that was uniquely theirs – the sharp suits, the dense wordplay, the twisting riffs, the overt intellectualism. It was all immaculately composed and sat together in what was one of the most exciting potential stories in indie rock. As they return at top form, their agelessness only accentuated by time, it’s hard to imagine Interpolever being any less than very competent.
It’s a characteristic success and a massive delight to the fans that their return as a three-piece yields something as excellent as ‘El Pintor’. The band that could once do no wrong returns, doing a hell of a lot of things exactly right.
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