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Interpol – El Pintor Album Review

The album cover for El Pintor by Interpol

Whatever you may have heard, Interpol and I are not breaking up.  Even though this seems more like an emotional decision than a rational one, our history is too great to just throw away on a seriously weak album or two. Our first dalliance, 2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights was an artful, wicked seduction that stuns to this day; the follow-up of Antics was proof that this was more than a fling. Those two albums added up to something legitimately special. Maybe here was a band I could spend my life with! So I called my mom and my friends.  “This is it,” I told them, “I think this band may be…the one.” Then came Our Love to Admire, and even though people were starting to say bad things about my chosen musical companion, I still felt the fire inside, regarding the weaker elements of their third effort to be sort of the “using the toilet in front of me” phase of our relationship: we weren’t new anymore, but there was no doubt we still belonged together. Then: Interpol, the self-titled fourth LP. The first single “Lights” was beyond promising. It was a new version of their old sound, potent and electric. And it was the only thing on the album that was. Oh, there were some decent songs and I didn’t hate it exactly, but… The bloom was off the rose. Interpol was looking at other people, not helping with the housework, napping on the sofa instead of being the band I thought they were. The news that they were parting ways with their sound-defining bassist Carlos Dengler seemed proof that they were probably going to move out soon. We were just drifting apart. With the announcement of LP number five, El Pintor (an anagram of the band’s name) I was filled with equal parts excitement and dread. Could they capture my affections as they once had and re-ignite the spark? Could they dispel the bland idea-free drone of their last effort?

El Pintor’s first single “All the Rage Back Home” certainly seemed to argue that they could. With a vengeance.  A blend of sounds from the first three albums (intro is uncomfortably close to Our Love’s album opener “Pioneer to the Falls”), it is a bright, driving and hugely catchy song, all ringing guitars and rocky drums offering able support to an unusually energetic Paul Banks vocal performance.  “Ancient Ways”, likely the second single from the album, is also an eye-opening delight, though much more of a ‘grower’ than the opener. It’s a totally different sound, eschewing the traditional guitar ring-in for a short, fast drum intro and getting right down to business: Daniel Kessler’s low, menacing guitars weave gorgeous harmonies into a chorus swollen with layers of synth and multi-track vocal. It’s really damn good. Drummer Sam Fogarino seems to have been let off the chain from time to time on this record and when it happens, it’s always worth it.

Unfortunately, the real thrills are few outside of those two standouts. The absence of Dengler’s bass is keenly felt (though not as catastrophically as I had feared), and the overloud, tinny production does nothing to ease this.  Then there is the preponderance of uninspired, toothless tracks that sound like they could have been produced using a sort of “mediocre Interpol song” algorithm. Jangly guitar intro, hookless chorus featuring Banks’ flat croon over four-four drums, repeat, repeat, repeat.  “My Desire” is one such, the intro of which is essentially a sped-up version of the one used on Interpol’s “Safe Without”. “Anywhere” is even more aimless and devoid of emotional impact. Almost making three duds in a row is “Same Town, New Story”, which is so much like the previous two tracks as to seem almost parodical until the last minute and a half, when the boring drops away in favor of a stark, beautiful coda that hearkens back to the honeymoon days.

The rest of the record falls into a spectrum from “moderately successful but not very exciting” (“My Blue Supreme”, “Everything is Wrong”) to “quite good but no ‘All the Rage’” (“Breaker 1”, “Tidal Wave”) and it ends with the mellow, swimmy, wandering “Twice As Hard”, which is a good choice, as it feels like it has the most DNA from Turn on the Bright Lights and leaves the record with an overall pleasant aftertaste.

So we’re not breaking up. El Pintor is like a successful stint of couple’s counseling: the weaknesses are still apparent and the magic of our early trysts is difficult to muster, but I can still see what I saw in the band back in the early aughts. You can never really turn back the clock. I’ll just have to be willing to work with them, and be ready to celebrate the successes when they come.  After all, as Banks’ intones to open one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Fuck the ancient ways”.

Oh, Interpol, let’s do thanksgiving at our place this year.

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Nick is a writer and desk jockey with a bleary eye on culture and an unquenchable thirst for music and genre fiction/film. This is shorthand for "knows things about spaceships and wizards". He is occasionally bitten by small animals he deliberately maintains in his Columbus, OH home for some reason. He is available for birthday parties and bar mitzvahs. He is not a replicant.

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