The music of Joy Division, while not as overtly plagiarized as too many lazy writers carelessly assert, certainly serves as a template for Interpol’s immobile sense of dramatic enterprise. From the moment Interpol arrived on the scene in 2002, the band came fully equipped with its image and sound intact. Its presentation was so thoroughly versed in retro-counterculture that it wouldn’t have been unfair to assume the band had been manufactured by a very sly, underground Svengali.
Interpol backlash is probably long overdue. When bands come out of the gate with everything so seemingly well put together, it instills a whiff of fraudulence that festers just below the surface for critics waiting like vultures for any signs of choking. And the way in which Antics carefully sidestepped the sophomoric pressure of following up Turn on the Bright Lights with its dense melodies and brooding confidence probably annoyed the naysayers. It’s the third record that will feel the brunt, however.
So, expect many dismissive reviews of Our Love to Admire, as it is Interpol at its most vulnerable. But do read them with a grain of salt. Musically, Interpol’s third record is more ambitious than anything the band has produced thus far. Its growth is remarkably understated, which will frustrate some, but Interpol has turned a mass of dramatic clichÃ©s into a distinct art form that is both bankable and superficially one-dimensional. The careful listener will easily discern the advancements, which can be distilled into one evident truth: The band simply knows how to write better songs.
Interpol’s basic sound remains intact. Strict, down-stroked guitar lines build upon a booming den of atmospherics and post-punk propulsion. Carlos D’s melodious bass work continues to serve as the band’s secret weapon. And while there’s not much hope in Paul Bank’s unsubtle imagery, his mannish baritone wields a brazen sense of gravitas sorely lacking in modern rock’s arsenal of whining pussies. He’s the doomsayer’s everyman. Heavy-handed though he may be, Banks pushes himself into unexplored territory throughout the album.
Banks answers to no one in the lyrics department, as the opening lines of “Pioneer to the Falls” might suggest (“Show me the dirtpile and I will pray that the soul can take three stowaways”). What any casually self-aware writer would instantly scrap, Banks leans on until it becomes something else entirely, calling into question your own sense of what is acceptable, lyrically. The inextricable link between Banks’ delivery and his monochromatic voice forces phrases into new interpretations. His imagery is so thick and overwrought, it’s tiring to listen to some times, but the emotion is so stoic and consistently driven that it becomes affecting in unpredictable ways.
The hint of a wicked smile penetrates the otherwise resignedly melancholic “There’s No I in Threesome”, which never again rears its head. Banks’ sincerity is so believable that when the title eventually falls from his mouth it feels like a splash of cold water. Is he taking the piss out of his own band’s stiff image? If so, it’s genius. As the record moves, the production booms. The drums have never sounded so cavernous and colossal. “The Heinrich Maneuver” hides the band’s maturation briefly, relying on a predictably herky-jerky guitar pattern that will not be unfamiliar to anyone in Interpol’s wake. It’s a playful attack that cannot be ignored as a single, recalling the infectiousness of “Slow Hands.”
The heady “Mammoth” is a pounding rocker that crackles with dynamism and strength, led by Banks’ strained baritone (“spare meeeeeee the suspense”) and a surge of chiming guitars, which betray the band’s teeming urgency. Everything seems to fall into place for “Pace Is the Trick”, recalling the masterful build-up of “The New” off Bright Lights. Banks pushes his voice up to a brittle, vulnerable ache in the chorus, and the effect is both heart-rending and forceful. It is the album’s sleeper highlight, only to be challenged by the nascent beauty of the closer, “The Lighthouse.”
It’s shortsighted and uninformed to argue that Interpol hasn’t evolved enough over the course of three albums, and such arguments are as shallow as those from dismissively clueless parents who claim that all hip-hop sounds the same. Yes, the band’s development has been subtle and nuanced – and might even go undetected by casual listeners – but it’s the progression in songwriting, arrangement, and orchestration that’s crucial to what makes Our Love to Admire such an understated achievement for Interpol. The zeitgeist that Turn on the Bright Lights captured will likely never be duplicated, but Our Love to Admire is almost worthy of the throne.