The task of recording a follow-up to Interpol’s debut album, 2002’s “Turn on the Bright Lights,” must have been daunting to the young band. Their premiere was very close to a masterpiece.
Coming out of New York University in 1998, the band had gained some local notoriety, appearing frequently in Brownie’s and the Mercury Lounge. By 2001, they had put together an EP and were playing shows in the UK. By the next year, Matador had signed them and released a single. Their first album quickly followed suit.
Deriving their sound from such seminal alternative acts as Joy Division, Interpol makes its music simply and powerfully, with staccato guitars and thrusting quarter-note drums. Their first album renders droning sonic landscapes with layer after layer after layer of guitar, each adding some refrain, building a roaring wave of sound.
However, what really sets this band apart is the droning vocals of frontman Paul Banks. He talk/sings his way through his songs with amazingly dispassionate passion, crooning with soulful tonelessness – a kind of possessed chanting.
Tying these elements together, the band creates a truly evocative and refreshing, albeit angsty, debut. But the simple arrangements and structures beg the question: how far can they go before it gets old, a rehashing of tired themes and methods?
In the case of their second album, “Antics,” released earlier this fall, this seems to be the question Interpol is asking itself.
While the band has certainly retained its signature sound with songs as well-rendered as those from their first album, we hear, on this sophomore effort, a band trying to expand.
This is apparent from the very first note of “Antics,” which is not an ambient echo of guitar, as one would expect from Interpol, but rather the hum of an organ. It evokes not the angst that made “Turn on the Bright Lights” such a standout, but rather a certain ho-hum rock and roll. It brings to mind the refrain of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life,” a heightened presence of keyboard.
However, many of the songs seem to have been merely picked up off the cutting room floor, rejects from their first album. Some of them simply do not posses the raw power of their predecessors. For instance, the album’s opening and closing tracks, “Next Exit” and “A Time To Be So Small” respectively, both play out rather aimlessly. Of course, this is not a dead set rule.
Many are songs that build. Where they begin does not typically dictate where they go. Take the song “Public Pervert,” for example – it is a rather listless verse followed by an explosive chorus.
And some, still, are simply standout rockers, such as “Evil” and “Slow Hands.” They reek of the anger and doom and gloom of “Turn on the Bright Lights,” the sinister fire and brimstone sound that made that album so infectious, with biting repetitions of simple guitar licks that roil with Banks’ colorless vocals.
It seems that Interpol is at something of an impasse. While their songs remain ultimately catchy, much of their identity relies on the simplicity of their sound, strung out guitars over guitars, plodding with rhythmic intensity. This does not leave the band much room to expand. So they give us exactly what we should expect: a band up to its old “Antics.”