A decade on, Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights is being re-released in Tenth Anniversary Edition form. Tim Lee feels old, then gets all misty eyed and remembers why he loves it. And stuff
Turn On The Bright Lights is 10. Interpol‘s debut has reached double figures. The point where it must begin to put away the childish things and become a man. Also, because albums age like dogs – dogs with crippling crystal meth habits 10 is far enough into their existence where they must, like a fading Hollywood star desperately clinging to her career, head to the nearest cosmetic surgeon and get plucked, tucked and peeled.
Which in this realm equates to remastering, repackaging and restocking with a bunch of unreleased material. For special editions the last of those normally follows the opposite principle as liposuction: shove as much back in there as you can possibly get in and people will be happy. But more of that later.
Remastering in general is always a bit of a questionable exercise, particularly with a record that hasn’t aged a bit. Every time it starts, every time that crystalline guitar line rings unmolested in the opening throws of Obstacle 1, no bass, no drums, no voice, it’s like a hermetically sealed artefact has been opened, the air-lock releasing for long enough to suck you in to a world where time does not penetrate.
Sure enough, the remastering hasn’t changed much. The core elements still seem where they were originally put in 2002. Daniel Kessler’s serpentine guitar lines. Sam Fogarino’s deceptively propulsive drumming. Carlos Dengler’s astonishingly melodic basslines. And Paul Banks’ voice, singing like he is buried under three feet of soil, intoning those lyrics with deep, morose romance.
Paul Banks sings like he is buried under three feet of soil, intoning those lyrics with deep, morose romance
Ah yes, the lyrics. Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny, they’re a talking point. Also, the fact they’re a bit odd does help maintain the air of ageless mystery. It’s the difference between going to a David Lynch film and raging about the fact that there are now talking rabbits on screen and going to a David Lynch film and believing that perhaps those rabbits might be suggestive of something else.
It’s true that since the release Banks has underplayed the importance of them, saying the demands of the song, the melody and the cadence of the music is more important. And it’s true that there never is any Bob Dylan-like sense of forcing lines into spaces that they don’t fit in. But it isn’t to say that they’re meaningless. The oddities and the non-sequiturs are born of a knowing playfulness, that is designed to give you pause for thought, provoke a response and OH LOOK IT’S STOPPED SNOWING. See. Works everywhere.
Despite the fact that Interpol were Kessler’s creation – it was his band that he asked the others to join – it always felt like Interpol have always been a collaborative effort. Something that’s given additional weight by the work the members have done outside of these confines. Fogarino was a veteran of several bands prior to being recruited (he was the last to join in 2000) but most recently with Magnetic Morning he showed more shoegazey tendencies. Banks’ two solo albums have carried his lyrical quirks through into different territory, and Dengler has been making experimental films and composing symphonies and film scores. And definitely not slinging a bass around.
A demonstration that all, with the possible exception of Kessler, hold (or held) something back when they’re in Interpol. But they all give something too. There are four distinct musical identities pushing on the corners which make Interpol sound the way they do. A lot of bands claim to create a signature sound, but Interpol genuinely nailed it. It’s their gift to all of us, the adjective ‘Interpolian’.
It was there on album number one. Which is the thing; for a debut, Turn On The Bright Lights seems remarkably well formed. Or at least it would be if it hadn’t actually been the culmination of almost five years’ work. For most, the debut being the point where most first heard them, it looks like lightning in a bottle. For them, it was probably more like whittling a pipe from a tree-trunk: the endless, gradual hone. Nevertheless, regardless of the winding route they took, if you consider this the point when they did finally arrive, they sounded complete.
As was Turn On The Bright Lights. Structurally, compositionally, it is a complete record. From the soaringly downbeat NYC, melancholic drama and pounding pulse of of Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down and PDA, to the elegant precision with which the guitars lock together in Leif Erikson, there are more moments of brilliance captured on these 12 tracks than many bands manage in an entire career, ill-feted reunion and slightly bad-tasting rummage through their possessions for any unrecorded material once they’ve all died.
“There are more moments of brilliance captured on these 12 tracks than many bands manage in an entire career”
The extras that you get here are interesting, at best, and slightly awkward at worst. Of the unreleased songs, Specialist is good, but it’s also been the most widely available prior to this, Precipitate is a floating, beautifully sad number and Song 7 is gloriously cinematic, with a deliciously bitter edge to Banks’ climactic “let’s start again, buttercup”, that suggests he’s not wandering through a dairy herd. The completists will probably be drawn to the yearning Gavilan (Cubed), being the least widely heard. It is a beautifully poised number, with a portentously hollow tone, but neither it, nor any of the others make you wish they’d sequenced Turn On The Bright Lights differently. They’re good Interpol songs, but you don’t particularly get the impression that there was a Gallagher-esque tendency to hide away masses of good stuff.
You also get a bunch of demo versions and a Peel session from 2002. They’re markers on a line, a band working towards a goal and a band on the cusp of reaching it. The early version of PDA has different lyrics, which jar, but the most noticable difference with it (and the early version of Roland) is with Banks’ voice. He seems much higher in the mix and he sounds more fraught, more unsure. They clang and clatter where the album versions serenely march onwards. There’s something to be said for charting the progress from those early attempts (recorded 1999) through to the finality of that live performance, but it’s hard to justify doing it more than once. Or at a party. Unless conversation has really dried up.
As a release it isn’t revelatory. It doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know about. As an album, it is a blinding reminder of how startlingly good Turn On The Bright Lights is. At the moment, Interpol are on hiatus. Which is a very Interpol place to be: it sounds urbane, cosmopolitan, and laced with all manner of hidden meanings. Hiatuses could easily involve exotic adventures in some moonlit metropolis or sitting around in your pants shouting at morning television.
Any new album will be the first without Dengler and replacing him will be hard. So their future is a bit unclear. But that isn’t what this is about – reminiscing is always easier than clairvoyance. But whatever else happens, Turn On The Bright Lights remains one of the best albums of the last decade. If you don’t have it, then this is a perfect excuse to rectify your heinous crime.
The Tenth Anniversary edition of Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights is out on 3 December 2012 through Matador. Visit interpolnyc.com for details.