Turn On The Bright Lights
By: Eric Greenwood
From the first notes of Turn On The Bright Lights I knew that all of my preconceived notions about Interpol were wrong. I imagined a fey, new wave throwback similar to The Faint based on photographs of these guys in conjunction with all the heavy-handed Joy Division references being casually bandied about. Not that a Joy Division reference connotes anything “fey”, but, lately, it seems that all the bands with so-called “Joy Division influences” tend to land on the less-than-rocking side of the fence.
One listen to Turn On The Bright Lights will clear everything up immediately, though. Interpol has an extraordinarily commanding presence for a band releasing its debut album. Its music is dark and tense with references both subtle and obvious, harking back to all the right bands. Honestly, all the talk of Joy Division puzzles me a bit; I hear far more Echo & The Bunnymen, Bauhaus, Televsion and even The Feelies than anything from Manchester’s finest. Perhaps, it’s just the deep, resonating vocals that generate such comparisons- well, that and lazy writers.
Interpol eases you into its dark labyrinth of echoing guitars and fractured emotions on the heavy-lidded opener, “Untitled.” It’s a gorgeously swaying melody, recalling early Jesus And Mary Chain and Disintegration-era Cure. “Obstacle 1” reveals considerable muscle in its “Marquee Moon”-style guitar interplay, squashing any fears that Interpol might be a bunch of light-weights. Interpol wraps its catchy, well-constructed pop songs up in dark capes, but the tense, rocking edge keeps the “gothic” tag at bay. The urgency with which the band attacks each song is jarring- even the slow ones like “NYC” are tough and resilient.
“PDA” is an astoundingly good rock song. The nervous energy is contagious, as the echoing guitars descend upon the tight, potent rhythm section. Paul Banks' deep cadence is almost frightening in its seriousness (though the lyrics are biting and witty in an eerie way), and he punches his voice to match the crisis of each moment that passes. It’s a brilliant song that I’ve played over and over and over again. Each part is perfectly composed, right down to the overly long anticlimax. “Say Hello To The Angels” has had several Smiths comparisons thrown at it in the press, undoubtedly for its unabashed jauntiness, which is fair enough, but I think it has more in common with Brian Eno’s “Third Uncle”, particularly in the chorus.
Don’t be fooled by the constant references to other bands. While the foundation upon which Interpol is building, certainly is borrowed, its music is not a miming act. It’s clear that someone (if not everyone) in the band has a solid record collection, and, by thoroughly absorbing its roots, Interpol is able to start well ahead of its peers. Most bands take at least one or two records to shake the derivations out of its songwriting. Amazingly, though, Interpol is able to bring much of its own personality to the table right from the onset. That point is perfectly illustrated on the moody, punchy "Obstacle 2", which flaunts the band's aggressive bravado all the through to the howling falsetto in the finale.
Turn On The Bright Lights is full of artful, rhythmic shifts, punchy, melodic bass lines, and layers of moody atmospherics, all of which avoid major chords like the plague. Interpol's gloomy, gritty sound is powerful and polymorphous, as it meanders through a kaleidoscope of moods. All it takes to turn Paul Banks' deadpan apathy into heightened melodrama is the crash of the right chord. His band's intensity is its driving force. Sure, some of the songs run a bit long, but when they're this good and they rock this hard, it doesn't much matter.