December 19, 2007
In 2004, I was totally “in the wrong” with some of my friends. They wanted to go out and dance to “Slow Hands” or “Narc” and I was like, “Fuck that: who needs ‘NARC’ when I’ve already got ‘PDA’?” It’s tough to be the guy who simply isn’t feeling a band’s second album while everyone else is in love with it. Your friends just laugh and call you a stuck-up, too-cool-for-school, hipster critic. There are some constants in life, however, and one of them is that Interpol’s Antics is not as good as Turn on the Bright Lights (2002). I think most of us can agree with that. But here’s where I differ from most: when Antics came out I believed it wasn’t only inferior to the band’s debut but that, in the grand scheme of cultural worth, it was average at best. While folks were at the clubs dancing amidst the hipster herd and posting critical praise on well-respected music websites, I was quietly sitting in my apartment revisiting Interpol’s old songs.
Returning to this second Interpol album after reluctantly digesting this year’s Our Love to Admire has definitely solidified some thoughts I’ve had about the band all along. My most prominent criticism is that they are locked in a holding pattern in which they play the same kind of music without making any improvements on previous, now distant, accomplishments. I mean, if you’re not going to change up your style much, at least write better songs within your confines. The Strokes, after all, were able to craft a handful of classics—“12:51” and “Automatic Stop”—with their sophomore effort, Room on Fire (2003), an album that followed the musical patterns of Is This It? (2001). Sure, everything on Antics is played with the competence of a well-toured band, but none of its songs are as startling as their counterparts on Turn on the Bright Lights.
By the third song, Paul Banks’ phrasing has already grown tired and painfully familiar. I’m referring to his insistence on constructing his vocals in the same way throughout the entire album. He did this on the debut but his lyrics were more subdued and the overall originality of the band’s sound allowed us to overlook its slight drawbacks. But Antics would certainly have been better off if Banks had something to say. Humor me: on “Slow Hands” he rattles off such cheesy Poetry 101 fodder as “I just go crazy like the good old days / You make me want to pick up a guitar / And celebrate the myriad ways that I love you” or indulges out of place 17th century metaphysical rants like, “If time is my vessel, then learning to love might be my way back to sea” (from “Public Pervert”). Was he writing lyrics while watching Titanic, or was it Shakespeare in Love?
Well, if lyrics aren’t gonna pull this thing through, I can’t help but think that at least some variance in arrangement could be productive (those acoustic guitars worked pretty well for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Show Your Bones, right?) Nonetheless, Interpol sticks to their well-worn guns: millions of guitar downstrokes and the repetitive boom-boom-ba-ba drumbeats that drive home the boredom. Structurally and sonically, Antics fed us the same peaks and valleys and breakdowns and explosions that we became familiar with on its predecessor—the second time around just isn’t as intriguing. This album even repeats itself. Listening to “Evil” and “C’mere” back-to-back, they come off like the same song with slightly revised arrangements.
I’d be overstating myself to posit Antics as a wholly offensive listening experience. Yes, I get it: this record actually sounds okay when it’s being played in the background at a house party or at the rock ‘n’ roll bar. But that’s as good as it gets: background music. I’d let these four guys off the hook if their overall creative potential was low to begin with—you know, like VHS or Beta—but the songs on their first album hint at a striking well of ideas that should be improved upon with future recordings. The real kicker for me is how all of my friends, who love Antics, always get mad at me for continuing to listen to and talk about new Interpol albums. “If you hate the band so much,” they ask, “why do you keep on initiating the conversation?” Well, in my heart, I don’t hate them: I just want them to be better. But maybe my friends are right. Perhaps the assumption I need to revise about Interpol is that they never had more to offer than Turn on the Bright Lights.
Watch: "Slow Hands" [at youtube.com]
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