The sophomore release has caused many hyped young bands to buckle under the weight
of expectations. For those who surpass or equal their initial efforts, their poise,
confidence and blind ambition shine like a beacon to up-and-comers striving to
cement their status. Unlike fellow New York rock royalty the Strokes, who opted to
safely repeat the template of Is This It, Interpol sheds the heavy atmosphere
and Joy Division aspirations that characterized its debut, Turn on the Bright
Lights, and instead delivers a record that builds upon its sound without
drastically reworking it.
Opener "Last Exit" boldly ushers in this new aesthetic, riding on an organ and a
slide guitar riff and sounding mildly like a '60s R&B number filtered through Echo &
the Bunnymen an effectively shocking stylistic departure from Bright Light's
dim mood. The upbeat and punkish "Slow Hands," Antics' first single, slashes
along with a tightened rhythm section. Carlos D's bass lines and
Sam Fogarino's drumming were an essential part of Interpol's debut, but an essential
background part. On Antics, however, instead of fading behind the chiming and
intertwining guitars of Paul Banks and Daniel Kessler, they have been pushed to the front.
"Evil," "Narc," "Not Even Jail" and "Slow Hands" all swing as a result of this animated
and highlighted rhythm section. In fact, "swing" might not be an adequate enough word to describe
how well Interpol has incorporated the groove into its repertoire; "Not Even
Jail" finds the band in full mirrorball mode, complete with 4/4 beat and ascending/descending
guitar lines. "Evil" begins with a bass line reminiscent of some of the Pixies' best work,
sounding vaguely like "Gigantic."
On "Take You on a Cruise," Banks emerges as one of the more compelling
frontmen in recent history, rivaling Morrissey and Robert
Smith for uncapped lovesick yearning. To complement Banks' newfound status as romantic
troubadour, his vocal range has grown from a simple but effective menace to include actual
emoting. And although his lyrics can run the gamut of the hilariously absurd
("Time is like a broken watch/ I make money like Fred Astaire") to the enigmatic and
moving ("The pretense is not what restricts me/ It's the circles inside") to heart-on-the-sleeve
romantic longing, ("Would you like to be my missus in a future with child?") all within the space
of a single verse, his delivery and self-assurance belie any weaknesses in the often-clumsy
choice of words. Witness the emotional and musical highpoint of "Take You on a Cruise,"
in which Banks backs his lyric, "I am a scavenger between the sheets of union," with true
feeling and impassioned singing, cracking the icy veneer and detachment that defined his vocals
on Bright Lights.
"Public Pervert" and closer "A Time to Be so Small" are much closer in spirit
to Bright Lights, which seems to be Antics' only flaw. An uneven choice of
songs ends the record on a downcast note, betraying the lighter tone that
predominates. As for the songs themselves, they serve as a reminder of how far
Interpol has grown since its 2002 debut. On Antics, Interpol is less indebted to its
influences, creating a distinct sound from the distinguishing characteristics that drew those
comparisons in the first place. Fans eager for the taste of the familiar will no doubt find
Antics satisfying. Particularly on "A Time to Be so Small," Interpol is in full
gloom-and-doom effect; Banks' vocals are slow, less animated and buried under distortion, the band
follows in lock-step with Kessler's neon-bright guitar notes dotting the gray landscape.
Images of ships, the open ocean, navigation, starry nights and lost lovers abound
on Antics. The subject of love and its complications the highs, the lows and
everything in-between have been covered before, but Antics refreshes such tired
stories. Despite seeming destined to be pigeonholed as the second coming of Joy
Division or the Cure or any other post-punk sulker, Interpol has moved
past these soundalike predecessors into a space of its own.
Bobby Mann (mannhb at hotmail dot com)