Interpol – El Pintor
El Pintor may mean “the painter” in Spanish, frontman Paul Banks’ second language, but it’s also a scramble of “Interpol.” This would seem to signal that the band, now a trio, is ready to mix things up, perhaps taking a cue from the stylistic diversions that bubbled up on the fringes of their eponymous record. Instead, El Pintor reveals that in the past four years—the band’s longest gap between records—the band have lost their bassist but not their identity or sensibility, dwelling in the same seductive shadows they always have. Interpol are often criticized for their singular focus, for how they honed their sound on the brilliant Turn On The Bright Lights, turned up the tempo for Antics, and then haven’t touched the formula much since. (For all the griping about how they ripped off Joy Division in 2002, turns out they’ve got the last laugh: few bands then or now sound particularly like them, proving they were do something more distinctive than their detractors were willing to admit.) If the songwriting is strong, maintaining a style isn’t necessarily a problem. And more than anything, that’s why Our Love To Admire and Interpol are decent but uneven listens: They each offer a sprinkling of tracks that hint at greatness, illustrating that if Interpol just got out of their own way and wrote a great set of songs, they might reach another career peak.
El Pintor, on its outset, seems to promise that. It’s punchier; they’ve trimmed the fat that occasionally bloated their recent work, and at 39 minutes, it’s their shortest album yet. The slow-building, uptempo tracks here harken back to Antics, and with the title of “Breaker 1” deliberately referencing “Obstacle 1,” there’s the sense that Interpol are trying to get back in touch with their glory days, even with the loss of Carlos D. The opening gambit of “All The Rage Back Home” and “My Desire” starts things off promisingly too. The first is a fine example of a latter-day Interpol single, complete with Banks repeating a short phrase (this time it’s “I keep falling/maybe half the time”) as the track crescendos in a torrent of sinewy guitar lines, while “My Desire” relishes in the high drama and frustrated catharsis from Turn On The Bright Lights that’s been in short supply since. No, they never reach the heights of their best work here, yet if these songs are more “Take Me On A Cruise” than “PDA,” so be it. Interpol have always had their fair share of worthy deep cuts, and the rest of El Pintor follows the same pattern, feeling more like a solid, if not immediate, collection of B-sides. Some of those, like the insistent “Anywhere” and the thundering “Ancient Ways” feel comfortable and confident in the way that only a band that’s been working for this long can manage, not exactly fresh but still pretty damn exciting. Plus though the music is still markedly gloomy, Daniel Kessler’s sprightly, high-pitched riffs on tracks like “Same Town, New Story” and “My Blue Supreme” help the record come off a touch brighter, which is some sort of win too, I suppose, because it gives the record a distinctive flair among its predecessors. Again, there’s nothing here Interpol haven’t done before, but they haven’t done it this consistently well for ten years, so there’s a lot of silver lining, even if the highlights aren’t as high. If Interpol can no longer surprise, at least they can still satisfy on a small scale.
Interpol – Interpol
Whenever a band releases an eponymous album, the idea is that the record is definitive of the band’s sound. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best album in a band’s discography but one that gives a good example of what they are all about. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Interpol ends up being a bit of summation of Interpol’s career so far, touching upon everything the band has done in the past. They even moved back to their old label, Matador, to release the record. The intoxicating urgency of Turn On The Bright Lights, the upbeat, danceable rhythms incorporated into Antics, and the sonic ambitions of Our Love To Admire take their shape here in one form or another. Some of the sleek but sub-par songwriting that marred Our Love also affects some of the tracks here, but fortunately this is an altogether tighter and more focused listen. “Barricade,” with its anthemic chorus, could easily fit into either of the band’s first two albums, and opener “Success” also lives up to its name, taking advantage of Interpol’s knack for dark elegance. Yet, for every success is a tuneful but forgettable song like “Summer Well” and “Safe Without.” The problem with these songs—and with Interpol in general—is that, because the band traces back over their older work, they offer nothing new. Instead, they only serve as an example of the band’s sonic blueprint but don’t have the memorable songwriting to make them worthwhile. It is only when Interpol try something different that the album becomes more interesting than a retrospective. The insistent “Lights,” which gradually builds to a stomping chant of “That’s why I hold you, dear,” is just about the best moment on the album. The keyboard loop on “Try It On” and “The Undoing”‘s mourning brass and Spanish-language verses point toward other directions Interpol could go in the future. Considering the retrospective feel of the album and the departure of founding bassist Carlos Dengler, self-titling the album may also signal that the band are ready to move on to pursue the new sounds hinted at here. Interpol may please fans as it showcases something familiar, but it gives the overall impression that it is the end of an era. It’s quite frankly a relief, though, as Interpol don’t really seem to have their hearts in mining the same sounds they used to.