Album Reviews

Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights

(Matador) UK release date: 19 August 2002

Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights Among buzz like a beard of bees, Interpol have ushered in the next wave of New York City rock ‘n’ roll groups touted to reinvigorate the genre. Where that other NYC hype machine The Strokes are scruffy, drunk and a little lazy, Interpol come across as distinctly cosmopolitan and in control of their image, dressed in smart suits and topped with meticulously coiffed hairdos.

Really, to compare Interpol to Julian Casablancas‘ motley band of prepster misfits is unfair, considering the only touching points on this particular hipster Venn diagram are the level of press behind them, and their locale. But being from the same neighbourhood does not necessarily make neighbours.

Interpol show impressive levels of restraint, counterbalanced with explosive swells of unbridled passion on their coldly affecting debut full-length Turn On The Bright Lights. At times, it seems Paul Banks and company are aiming for arena anthem status, and at others, their unshakeable aggression comes through in jarringly angular bursts. The minor-key guitars slice through one of the deftest rhythm sections to come out of New York since Television to thrilling effect, even as the album is at its darkest and most brooding.

There are obvious comparisons to be made to Joy Division – Banks does sound an awful lot like a young Ian Curtis – but where Joy Division’s punk aesthetic came through in their music, Interpol’s music sweeps and swells in ways that a strict application of punk principles could only hint at. Instead, Interpol’s discontentedness comes out in tightly constructed grooves, hacksaw staccato guitar reverberations, and Banks’ generally angst-ridden vocal delivery. Bright Lights is not necessarily an easy album to listen to, but its emotion and energy are so raw and appealing, that it’s also not an easy album to turn away from.

To discuss the album’s highlights is difficult since there’s really not a throwaway track here. Interpol are nothing if not consistent. The album opens with Untitled, a slow-building sweep of echoing guitars and a sort of underwater rhythmic lockstep, over which Banks half-mutters, “I will surprise you sometimes. I’ll come around when you’re down.”

On the outstanding, staccato stutter-starting backbeat anthem Obstacle 1, Banks’ lyrics run from darkly disturbing (“You’ll go stabbing yourself in the neck.”) to nearly uninspired (“Her stories are boring and stuff. She’s always calling my bluff.”). But even the mundane stuff is smattered with avant-garde disconnectedness. And on the sublimely slow-moving NYC (which is a welcome leftover from the EP Say Hello To The Angels/NYC), Banks paints a cold and realistic portrait of Interpol’s hometown, singing, “The subway, she is a porno,” and finally concluding that, “It’s up to me now. Turn on the bright lights.”

Turn On The Bright Lights is something of an anomaly amid all the garage rock rumblings and pseudo-blues combos that dominate rock ‘n’ roll’s trendier edge today, and as such, it seems to exist in its own vacuum-sealed world, at once cut off from and under the scrutiny of all the hype that surrounds its release.

It may be a bit much to hope that Interpol in their expensive suits can once again force life into a floundering post-millennial rock ‘n’ roll machine – we’ve hoped for that before and been let down, haven’t we? But this is cold soul, post-punk mope-rock at its absolute best, and Turn On The Bright Lights is a nearly flawless and consistently impressive debut.

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More on Interpol
Interpol – The Other Side Of Make-Believe
Interpol – Marauder
Interpol – El Pintor
Interpol @ Electric Ballroom, London
Spotlight: Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights