Two decades on from their debut Turn On The Bright Lights comes this dependably great album from a dependably great band
The Other Side Of Make-Believe is Interpol’s seventh studio album, and it comes in the wake of one of their most interesting releases ever (2019’s raw, bloody and noisy EP, A Fine Mess). The band have diligently put forth into the universe that this album is intended to be uplifting, and carry optimistic lyrical themes – which is a direct contrast to what they’ve spent the last 20 years doing.
The truth is that it’s a load of nonsense. They sound just as good as they ever have, by sounding just as bad, and the notion that their particularly crisp post-punk style has warmed over time is silly. All the things you know and love are present here: Paul Banks’ voice is just as distinct and dry as ever, emoting his fizzy non sequiturs like they’re Shakespeare sonnets with his customary blend of sincerity and cynicism. Sam Fogarino’s muscular drumming is just as distinct and distinctive as it ever has been, and Daniel Kessler’s gossamer-to-razorblade guitar spectrum is fully exercised.
So why puzzling, and why difficult? The simplest conclusion to draw is that if you’ve kept up with Interpol, this batch will take you near your hundredth Interpol song, and if anything these songs show signs of regression rather than pushing forward. It’s puzzling because Marauder (their last LP) and the aforementioned A Fine Mess showed a genuine commitment to doing something different with their sound – in the case of the former a kind of reckless abandon that had Banks sounding like Ozzy Osbourne on the first single and the musicians sounding like Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life band at every available opportunity. Both collections worked because they were loose where Interpol had previously been tight, and grooved where they’d previously sought to stand stock-still.
What’s difficult about it is that despite the regression, despite the leaning back into known pleasures, it actually really works. The album is a dream. These are classic Interpol songs performed in the way you want them. Minimal risk, minimal fuss, maximum enjoyment – and potentially this is all a symptom of the hellscape we’ve all been through in the past few years. Hearing something as charming and as emotional as a ‘safe’ Interpol album instantly warms the frostiest of hearts.
The highlights here are plenty. Of all the songs released before the record, Toni stands out as the best. In fact, it stands out as one of the very best Interpol songs of the past decade. Across the rest of the album, the best tracks are the massive Fables – the guitars are more than your recommended daily dose of Pixies – and the wonderfully dark Greenwich.
The highlights don’t end there, either. You have Big Shot City, with its disjointed rhythm and thunderous dynamics making an instant impact. Into the Night is also a wonderful reminder of the saturnine power of the sound they pioneered on that debut all those years ago. And of course, as the old saying goes – ‘it ain’t a gem unless it’s near track 10’, and the true gem of the album Gran Hotel (track nine), which was released the same week as the record, built as it is around some wonderful spiralling guitar lines and a tortured vocal that carries hints of The Smiths.
All in all, for such a puzzling and difficult album, this is a hell of a piece of work. The detractors will say it’s too mid-tempo, or too dour, or too same-y, and of course they’re all completely correct. It is mostly mid-tempo, and it’s certainly dour, and lots of the tracks hit the same pleasure zones – but at this point, 20 years from the band’s debut (and best) album, that’s exactly what we want. The Other Side Of Make-Believe is a dependably great album from a dependably great band. Keep ’em coming.