The first issue that emerges in any discussion of Interpol's stunning debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, is the band's relationship with the Goth pioneers Joy Division. Myriad listeners have branded Interpol a Joy Division tribute band, faithfully recreating the apocalyptic soundscapes so deftly conjured by Ian Curtis's seminal post-punk outfit with little identity of their own.
Others have espoused the notion that this is a lazy characterization, a reductive simplification of a considerably more complex and unique band; these Interpol aficionados feel that this comparison is a kind of crutch for those who either don't understand or can't describe the deceptively multifaceted group in order to mask their regrettable ignorance on the subject.
From my perspective the similarities between Joy Division and Interpol are completely transparent; I don't know whether their emulation of their predecessors is an homage, imitation or impersonation, but the resemblance is impossible to ignore and by no means a mere coincidence.
Nevertheless Interpol are more than a simple mimicry of their betters thanks in large part to the high caliber of their songwriting. Despite their tenebrous sound the band invest at least a modicum of catchy pop hooks into each track, in no way compromising or diluting the innate, compelling darkness of the songs.
Unfortunately, Turn On The Bright Lights is not bereft of flaws. The album is rather stylistically uniform, to the extent that even the ballads (like NYC) sustain the same vibe and tone as the rockers. The core sound is very gripping and involving, but its potency would be further compounded were even a brief note of diversity to be injected into the proceedings as opposed to the pervasive, near static sonic backdrop that frames each track.
Nevertheless the dearth of diversity is hardly an insurmountable obstacle toward enjoying the album. Interpol, no matter how reminiscent of Curtis's short-lived band they are, are more than Joy Division lite; even in the shadow of that legendary band they manage to produce worthwhile material, proving that a Joy Division imitating group is welcome if they imitate Joy Division well.
The album is devoid of filler; not every track is a classic, but even the lesser numbers are still captivating, thanks to both Interpol's own merits as well as the fidelity with which they duplicate the bewitching magic of albums like Closer and Unknown Pleasures which has managed to retain its full potency even after all these years of musical shifts and vicissitudes.
Highlights abound, from the entrancing Say Hello To The Angels to the pounding juggernaut Roland. Obstacle 1 and 2 are both highlights, as are the striking PDA and the ominous Hands Away.
Thus Turn On The Bright Lights is an immensely entertaining listen; it may not match the caliber and sheer brilliance of classic Joy Division, but it occupies a unique niche in the world of rock that had been vacant for far too long in the wake of Curtis's unfortunate, albeit intentional demise. Interpol adroitly assume the role of the second coming of Joy Division with enough craftsmanship and panache that they do justice to their predecessors, never once disgracing themselves, a difficult feat given the legendary, near mythical status rightfully earned by the stellar rock outfit that's proven so deeply influential to them.
Unsurprisingly Antics is ostensibly more of the same from Interpol, but as is invariably the case the formula is somewhat less fresh and inspired on the second go-round. The album is still highly atmospheric and fundamentally well executed, but whereas on Turn On The Bright Lights the group aspired to emulate Joy Division's sound as a foundation for their own strong songwriting, on Antics Interpol seem to pay more heed toward duplicating their idols sonic textures than focusing on their own compositional skills, resulting in an album that may be moody and aurally nuanced but is almost painfully shallow at times.
Fortunately the band still acquit themselves admirably in the melody department for the most part, hence strong tracks like Evil, Narc and Slow Hands, but when they neglect their compositional responsibilities, as is all too often the case on the latter half of the album, the result is interminable blandness and genericism.
There are no outright offensive tracks, but the second half of the album often feels like a parade of mediocrity, sounding less like second hand Joy Division than second hand Interpol. The songs suffer from a severe paucity of hooks, a situation that's exacerbated by the stylistically uniform sound of the album; while the first half of Antics can be forgiven for its static style thanks to its accomplished songwriting, the effect of this universal sameness grows quite wearying when there's little else to redeem a given track.
Not every track on the second half conforms to this description, but there is a tangible drop-off in quality after the first five numbers. Where tracks like Evil and Narc boast stellar riffs and the occasional catchy pop hook, tenebrous anthems like Public Pervert barely even register, too concerned with sustaining a mood to cultivate a memorable melody.
While atmospherics are important, and have always been paramount to Interpol's sound, when divorced from strong songwriting they're simply insufficient to animate an entire CD. There was far more to Joy Division than apocalyptic soundscapes and somber moodiness; on Turn On The Bright Lights Interpol realized this, fashioning a plethora of superb hooks and melodies. On the first half of Antics Interpol recall this lesson, but lose sight of it as the album progresses.
Thus Antics is a solid, if bipolar experience. For much of the way the album is very good, marrying Joy Division's caliginous vibe to very capable songwriting, but the group is simply unable to sustain this balance for the duration of the CD. Even the lesser tracks can still be enjoyed on a purely atmospheric level, though they'll doubtless be forgotten as soon as the next song begins.
Antics is ultimately quite entertaining, and can certainly be recommended to any fan of Turn On The Bright Lights. One must simply keep in mind that Interpol's debut makes better use of its Joy Division influences, capturing more than the band's superficial framework. Strangely enough, even though Turn On The Bright Lights was closer to Joy Division than Antics is, it also established more of an identity for Interpol themselves; thus rather than trading a unique personality for a more faithful facsimile of Joy Division, Antics suffers losses in both departments, afflicted with a sporadic blandness that's ultimately a fair reflection of neither group.
Interpol's albums demonstrate a peculiar phenomenon, a counterintuitive equation illustrated by the gradual decline in quality that typified their careers. When Interpol displayed the most fidelity to Joy Division's timeless opuses much was demanded of them; if they were to capture their idols' unique spark they were forced to concoct strong hooks and melodies of their own, thus indelibly placing their own stamp on the proceedings.
When, however, they adhered only superficially to the Joy Division paradigm, they simply hid behind the most fundamental, least demanding trappings of that aural dynamic, abstaining from pursuits that betrayed any measure of creativity or individuality.
Thus the less they successfully conveyed the essence of Joy Division the less they constructed a unique personality for themselves. The more they contented themselves with simply replicating Joy Division's superficial structure the more they distanced themselves from their own creative process, leading to tracks bereft of any meaningful substance or identity.
Our Love To Admire, Interpol's third outing, is their least successful attempt at capturing Joy Division's essence yet, no matter how faithfully they recreate the basic sound of their influences. Despite this, however, they continue to cling to this meager aspect of Joy Division as if it alone can sustain an entire album, enabling Interpol to simply coast on this musical element without devoting any true effort toward giving it meaning.
Our Love To Admire simply lacks the strong songwriting that animated Turn On The Bright Lights and, to a lesser degree, Antics. A few tracks are passable; Pioneer To The Falls is a suitably moody opener that thankfully doesn't rely on mood alone, while Mammoth is a decent enough rocker. Nevertheless the album boasts only a modicum of compelling melodies, leading to an entire CD that may not even be on par with the second side of Antics.
Even the stellar Turn On The Bright Lights suffered from a certain stylistic uniformity, and this flaw has been continually escalating with each passing release. Our Love To Admire is a terminally one-note affair without the catchy hooks of the band's better material to counteract the situation.
Thus the entire album is transfigured into one bland, uninspired and never ending malaise, lulling the listener into a kind of detached, half-conscious stupor. There are admittedly some moments that will register and even bring enjoyment to the listener, but these are few and far between and, after being subjected to so much similar material, they may not even penetrate the listener's semi-comatose trance.
Thus Our Love To Admire continues the regrettable downward spiral of a group that was initially brimming with potential. Rather than use their 'Joy Division tribute band' image as a foundation for building a future career, Interpol have instead fully succumbed to this role, impeding any growth or maturation that the band could hope to achieve.
There's only so much room for development for a group that define themselves by their similarity to another band, and thus Interpol have seemingly become irrevocably stuck in a rut with no hope of salvation. Interpol have fully embraced the limited role that they've constructed for themselves, and the result is pure, inescapable stagnation, as corroborated by their progressive deterioration from album to album.
Ergo Our Love To Admire is a decidedly mediocre affair. As stated it has its moments, and thanks to my partiality to the classic Joy Division sound I derive a measure of enjoyment from any halfway competent facsimile of it, but nevertheless the album is a huge step down from their first two outings, a product that can only be recommended for diehard fans of the group.
There's a common misconception about Interpol shared by critics and fans alike. The popular opinion is that the band's close adherence to the classic Joy Division style is stifling their creativity, and thus preventing them from developing their own artistic identity.
As widespread as that viewpoint is, I feel that it's based on an erroneous premise. I don't believe that imitating Joy Division is preventing Interpol from developing their identity; I believe that imitating Joy Division is Interpol's identity.
Not every group can be shockingly original and unique. Some bands simply need to rely on their influences in order to produce their best work. It's when Interpol stray from the Joy Division template that they begin to falter, unable to stand on their own without the aid of their betters.
Interpol certainly have talent, but at this point their Joy Division emulation has become inextricably linked to their musical persona. The band are sadly lacking when it comes to original ideas, hence their dependence on a rock act whom, thanks to Ian Curtis's untimely passing, never had the opportunity to grow stale. Perhaps this is why Interpol work; since Joy Division can be seen as an 'unfinished' project, it was necessary for a new band to emerge and lead the mythos to its conclusion. New Order opted to decline this challenge, leaving the perfect opening for Interpol to capitalize on.
Once it's been accepted that Interpol simply are a Joy Division tribute band, the only question that remains is whether Interpol are a 'good' Joy Division tribute band. Unfortunately, Interpol are a tad erratic in that department. On their self-titled fourth album Interpol certainly unapologetically ape Curtis and company, but they seldom manage to truly do their predecessors justice.
Interpol do, however, succeed on one important level, namely atmospherics. The songwriting on the CD often seems like an afterthought, but the band still manages to sustain a moody, apocalyptic vibe for the better part of the album. While atmosphere isn't everything, this rough approximation of the Joy Division tone does make for a listening experience that's far more entertaining than an album with such inconsistent songwriting has any right to be.
This isn't to say that the songwriting is uniformly poor. The opener, Success, begins the album on a stellar note, boasting an ominous riff and a plethora of brilliant vocal hooks. Elsewhere, Barricade will doubtless be lambasted for its pop elements, which is quite unfortunate as the song is extremely catchy without compromising its dark nature. Barricade features one of the most memorable refrains in Interpol history, as the band adroitly negotiate the balance between irresistible pop and foreboding melancholia.
Both Success and Barricade rank amongst the best achievements in the history of Interpol, but few other tracks reach these dizzying heights. The filler tends to be inoffensive, but there are certainly exceptions. All Of The Ways is bland and desultory, and these flaws are exacerbated by the song's gratuitously lengthy runtime. Furthermore, while not actively bad, Always Malaise (The Man I Am) owes more to Coldplay than Joy Division, a puzzling development that understandably fails to play to Interpol's strengths.
Thus most of the album's merits are predicated on its atmosphere, which basically means that without the direct Joy Division influences Interpol's fourth outing would have been an utter failure. This simply reinforces the notion that, as long as Interpol are going to succeed, they must continue to mimic Joy Division to whatever degree they can short of outright plagiarism.
This shouldn't be a mark of shame for the band. Interpol have simply found their niche, and produced their work accordingly. The reality is that just as not every group can make it on their own individual strengths, not every group can imitate their influences with the skill and cleverness of Interpol. Unfortunately, until the band can be more consistent when it comes to songwriting, they won't truly be able to fulfill their latent potential. Interpol make it abundantly clear that while it's difficult to be an original, just as much is demanded from a musical copycat.