Sunday, 2 September 2007

pioneer to the decline and fall


Following their Reading and Leeds performances, Interpol tour their third album, ‘Our Love To Admire’, in the UK this autumn, including two nights at London’s Alexandra Palace. The music press has greeted their major label debut as “a great album… rippling with the metropolis’ (New York’s) energy” (Paul Stokes, NME) and heralding the band’s “jump from postpunk revivalists to mainstream contenders” (Mark Edwards, Sunday Times), yet as an Interpol offering the album is fractured, with dark and delicious fits broken up by dragging, drearier cuts.

Stokes writes “‘OLTA’ finds its true strength as a whole”, yet it is a frustrating listening experience. It is not a question of sonic coherence but of quality. Interpol have never been prolific, but their previous albums are, rose-tinting aside, consistent in brilliance, not just atmosphere. OLTA’s impressive introduction is derailed by the trying ‘The Scale’, while ‘Mammoth’’s assault and ‘Who Do You Think?’’s rousing, rare simplicity are followed by the vacuous ‘Pace Is The Trick’ and annoying ‘Wrecking Ball’ respectively.
Edwards’ article notes that “with a new major label, Coldplay’s management on board and Muse’s producer (Rick Costey) behind the desk, this is serious”, as if on ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’ and ‘Antics’ Interpol were just mucking around. ‘OLTA’ certainly attempts a high seriousness: Paul Banks’ lyrics focus on expiration of the self (‘Who Do You Think?’, ‘The Lighthouse’) and of relationships (‘No I In Threesome’, ‘The Heinrich Maneuver’), while, courtesy of Costey, the album exhibits a dense soundscape of harsh guitars, thick, moody strings and bass and crisp earnest cuts of Banks’ voice, louder in the mix than before. However, explicit attempts at epic proportions tinge touching songs with a sense of bombast and fall far short of the spontaneously powerful ‘A Time To Be So Small’ and ‘Leif Erikson’: final track ‘The Lighthouse’ reaches a lush, mournful fever pitch but then a repetitive, self-important ending is laboured; ‘Pioneer To The Falls’’ finest moments are vigorously repeated as if signposted for the inane. The album’s consistently quasi-monumental attitude is laughable at weaker moments, such as Banks’ inconsequential proclamation in the chorus of ‘The Scale’: “My son, you sleep of clouds of fire, That’s all and that’s right”. ‘Mammoth’ is a fantastic cut, but it is the sound of a band creatively at breaking point: Kessler rags his guitar line with explosive frustration; Banks’ address to his Lady Wraith is the album’s only lingering ghost of the playful lyrical brilliance of the likes of ‘Obstacle 2’ and ‘Evil’.
Despite ‘OLTA’ being their worst and least accessible offering, Interpol are filling arenas and as commonly advertised on television as Danone and Oust. Contradiction? Yes. Surprising in the current music climate? Hardly. Interpol are the latest band to be primed as Edwards’ ultimate compliment: “stadium-ready”. ‘Mammoth’’s rare rearing of prickling intensity feels constructed from Interpol pushing on their concrete constraints; meanwhile the media is celebrating completely average anthems like ‘Rest My Chemistry’ (Edwards notes that that song took 56 takes to achieve its “stately, focused and powerful” finality; I was bored after half a listen). ‘OLTA’ may contain enough Edith Bowman-appropriate tunes without abandoning Interpol’s ruminating noir tradition, but it lacks the rollicking, instinctive seduction of their great albums. Sadly, its insipid entrails will have more publicity pumped into them than the finest details of their stunning early output, such as these tracks from the Fukd ID #3 EP (2000).

Interpol - Precipitate

Interpol - 5

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