Every band keenly feels the stresses of coming up with a second album. This is in marked contrast to the years of casual song development and playful jamming in parents’ garages that leads to a band’s sonic-blueprint debut. At a time when life is fresh and exciting, the noise simply flows out without much need for deep introspective thought. Sure, they want to succeed badly, but nobody would notice if they didn’t.
You can crank that pressure up several notches if the first effort is widely considered an all-time classic release. And Turn On The Bright Lights, Interpol’s impossibly good debut, is one such case. For me, it is no less than the high water mark in the history of post-punk guitar rock. I have yet to hear a more perfect record, and over two years of consistent, obsessive listening have yet to unearth even the most minute of flaws. At some point, every single track has “definitely” been my favourite on the album. My learned friends and I still only mention its name in the most hushed of tones.
It’s not at all surprising therefore that devising and recording follow-up Antics reportedly made lead vocalist Paul Banks physically ill. So, was it worth the blood, sweat, tears, and vomit?
Being a rather pessimistic soul (i.e. an English person), I feared the worst. Early nervous listens seemed to confirm my doubts. The reverb that cloaked the debut in a wall of guitar-duelling beauty is gone, the thrilling passages of interplay less prominent, whilst Banks’ Ian Curtis-like vocals sound more in the foreground, more professional – not a very post-punk word at all. As Claudio Ranieri once found, can you tinker too much?
But slowly, surely, things start to fall into place. There are few of the immediate classics here that littered the debut like NYC or Obstacle 1, but instead the quality reveals itself in its own time. Third track (and perhaps the album’s centrepiece) Narc is a fine case in point. Edgy guitar from the peerless Daniel Kessler forms an unsettling intro, before the, erm, peerless bass of Carlos Dengler forces its way into the proceedings with its characteristic expertise – then they’re off. Once its four minutes are up, more ideas have been packed in than most guitar bands manage in a career. Crucially though, nothing sounds forced – it all sounds beautifully characteristic and natural.
The overall mood is still as dark as ever, and yet somehow uplifiting. Take You On A Cruise is quite a stunning piece of music. The guitar work is enough to bring a tear to the driest of eyes. Not since Verlaine and Lloyd crafted Marquee Moon has there been a better geetar partnership than Banks, Kessler and the vital Dengler.
Not Even Jail is a thrilling headlong rush that initially recalls Joy Division‘s Shadowplay before shifting through the gears to reach the very limits of sonic magic. And despite an unusually sedate opening, Public Pervert once again builds expertly into a classic chorus that manages to be epic (hate that word) in a good way.
Perhaps the one slight weak point is first single Slow Hands. Sounding more like an attempt to match the funkier new-wave efforts of Franz Ferdinand or The Rapture, it seems an unnecessary attempt to ape from a band that has so little need to. This, however, is genuine nit-picking – like highlighting Freddie Flintoff’s least impressive stroke for six. Elsewhere, the unique qualities of their art is abundantly obvious.
Antics is a more than worthy follow-up to the album that couldn’t be followed. Quite simply, Interpol are the best band in the world.