By: Eric Greenwood
For a band that is so self-consciously meticulous about every aspect of its public persona, Interpol sure did whore itself around generously in support of its 2002 debut, Turn on the Bright Lights. From commercial fluff like Pepsi Smash to episodes of Six Feet Under to relentless touring, Interpol was inescapable for well over a year. The band's dense, moody post-punk and pretentious chic clicked with both hipsters and Goths alike, creating a frighteningly massive and rabid fan base.
Since Interpol had been playing the same damn eleven songs for – what seemed like and literally were – years, rumors began to spread as to whether the band could even write another song, much less record a new album. The endless touring almost became a joke. How long can you milk the same tired, worn-out teats? (Ask the Strokes). Well, the wait is over. For downloaders it's been over for a few months. The release of Antics proves one thing right off the bat: Interpol managed to pull itself away from the tour bus and black-bobbed sluts long enough to record some new songs. So, cheers to that.
The artwork reveals even less than Turn on the Bright Lights' blurry cover photograph did. All we get is a slightly altered logo with the album title tacked on the end to make one word: INTERPOLANTICS. Must have been a long day in the design shop. At least Turn on the Bright Lights had a picture of…something. No lyric sheet again. No personal information other than who Interpol is. The band must think its songs are strong enough to do all the work. Or maybe all this mystique betrays more of an allegiance to Joy Division than they care to admit. Regardless, Antics makes all of this moot. It stifles all the rumors and subverts any backlash simply because it's a really fucking good record.
Instead of trying to remake Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol moves in a slightly different direction. The changes are subtle but effective. The vocals are clearer and louder, allowing Paul Banks' leaden voice to flex its muscles. The bass and drums aren't as prominent, either, which reduces some of the punk punch that Turn on the Bright Lights so brazenly exploited. The production is crisper, slicker even, but it doesn't sound fake or labored. And Antics showcases Banks' penchant for creating memorable melodies out of the most awkward and stilted phrases ever put to music.
The songwriting is still too heavy on tangential offshoots that stray too far from the meat of the songs, but the hooks and verses are strong enough to keep it all together. "Next Exit" opens with a bewildering nod to '60's rock with its prominent organ line and trudging-through-molasses refrain. "Evil" sounds like the old Interpol, except, perhaps, a tad more jubilant. The bouncy bass bit notwithstanding, the song exudes confidence and self-importance well beyond what could possibly be expected of a band on its second go round. Interpol acts as though what it's saying needs to be heard. Maybe it's just Banks' terminal seriousness. Whatever it is, it's a good act and it works.
The first single, "Slow Hands" is arguably the best song the band has ever written. It's everything Interpol stands for all wrapped up in a dark dance-floor classic. Of course, the lyrics make absolutely no sense: "we spies, oh yeah, we slow hands/you put the weights all around yourself", but that's hardly a reason to complain. Whatever the hell Banks is selling here, I'm buying. The guitar interplay blends an expected staccato downstroke with a recessive melody, and as the drums and bass fall out there's a brief silence before the dance punk chorus kicks in. Banks' voice sounds truly evil and as he exaggerates "we spiiiiies…" His voice drags across the dark disco funk of Carlos D.'s bass in an exhilarating punch. It's impossible not to move.
Oh, the lyrics. Interpol's lyrics are often polarizing. It's damn near impossible to pull off a line like: "her stories are boring and stuff/she's always calling my bluff" ("Obstacle 1”). But Banks uses words syllabically to fit his off-kilter melodies, their meanings wrapped up in the context of his speech patterns. It's not so much what he's saying, but how he says it. Sure, the imagery is always thematically linked, always vaguely dark, so it's not like he plucks words randomly out of the sky, but linear storytelling is not his forte, obviously. Where sometimes lines seem completely uncalled for ("Rosemary/heaven restores you in life"), Banks will recover with clever patterns that half rhyme and link loosely enough to make you question whether he's got a master plan ("Great smile/
sensitive to faith not denial/but hey whose on trial?")
The whole of Antics is tighter and brighter. The hazy doom hanging over Turn on the Bright Lights seems to have dissipated. Though, "Not Even Jail", "Public Pervert" and the album closer, "A Time To be So Small", all revel in malignant ruminations and mercilessly propulsive downstrokes. Interpol cleverly sidesteps the weight of its follow-up pressure by churning out an album that simultaneously delivers upon the promise of its debut without trying to imitate itself and refines its formula to allow for change, however small. Antics is a grower. It's not as grandiose as its predecessor, but it still packs a lasting punch.