I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
I’m totally torn on Interpol right now. And I mean at this very moment. I really like their debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, for the most part, but the band itself really annoys me. Their sophomore release, Antics, despite some missteps, was decent as well. Then came the dreaded major-label debut, Our Love to Admire, and, without getting into the major label/indie label debate (something I find rather useless, particularly here), it was pretty clear the band was coasting. Our Love is borderline unlistenable. I mean, Paul Banks and co. wrote a song called “No I in Threesome” – I’m sure many of you can relate to something like that, right? (Right?!) And because of the ill will engendered from that album, it becomes increasingly difficult to return to the band’s earlier albums with an objective ear. (I wonder how much ill will the upcoming Interpol will inspire. I also wonder if anyone’s really going to notice.) [ED NOTE: Early results are in!] I’m also kind of tired of their slick Armani-suited schtick – they play hot summer festivals bundled in those things. Recently-ex-bassist Carlos “My Mustache Is More Important Than Your Life” Dengler wears a gun holster. They’re essentially a haricut band. I dunno. It’s hard to get excited about them anymore. So, in the spirit of my indecision, I present this review of Antics in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure story. If you decide not to listen to Antics based on your current prejudices against Interpol, go to page 23. If you swallow your pride and press play, go to page 6.
Strike one against Antics: it opens up almost exactly like Bright Lights. Or, wait a minute, I guess it’s not really a strike considering Bright Lights opens with two of its strongest songs, the moody “Untitled” and upbeat single “Obstacle 1.” In a case of don’t-fix-what-ain’t-broke, Antics does the exact same thing, opening with the moody “Next Exit” and upbeat “Evil.” The former is sober rain-on-taxi-window night musing, and even though its narcissistic New York hipster sentiments kind of grate (“We ain’t going to the town/ we’re going to the city/ Gonna track this shit around/ and make this place a heart to be a part of”), it still has that only-in-NYC charm about it, the beautiful youth and their sordid affairs and glamorous parties. It’s nice to be a distant observer – that’s the last lifestyle I want to replicate. But its cinematic scope works for Interpol, its heavily echoed instruments backing Banks’ baritone nicely. “Evil” is one of the better songs they’ve written, and stands up well next to its Bright Lights counterpart, “Obstacle 1.” If you don’t think that mimicing Turn on the Bright Lights, even for only two songs, is a good idea, go to page 23. If you’re ready to dig deeper, head to page 14.
Uh oh. What is that simple guitar line? The dark, disco one? That sounds like something I would’ve written in my sleep … in high school. But I guess if you’re going to call a song “Narc,” you have to infuse it with some sort of sinister instrumentation. Just … give it some staying power, don’t rest on a half-baked 4-note/6-note run. Wait, that guitar line is still going, under the singing. It was OK as an intro… it’s still going? Why? It’s not very interesting. In fact, it just kind of reinforces the kind of dark poseur attitude that can overshadow the band. It’s like Banks or guitarist Daniel Kessler plucked it off the top of their head at band practice one day and someone, probably Carlos D, was like, “That’s it, that’s the ticket! Let’s write a song based on that.” So, falling in love with the simple riff, Interpol decides to ride it ad nauseum, through a song designated as a single no less. “Narc” only begins to get interesting when the much-more-palatable chord progression kicks in at the chorus, even though the riff is still playing. It does eventually drop out, but its specter ruins the song. You’ve heard enough. Your fears were proven true. Go to page 30. If you’ve got the stomach for more, by all means, turn to page 31.
You scroll through the albums on your iPod and nothing looks good at the moment. Dejected, you decide to leave it up to fate and listen to whatever album comes up first on shuffle. It’s Peter Broderick’s European Tour CD-R collection. Relaxed now, your eyes start to slowly drift shut, until you’re whisked away on a cloud of sleep. Too bad you’re driving. You’re dead, sucka. The end.
It’s nothing but Joy Division and Mission of Burma records from here on out. You lock yourself in the house. You never leave. The end.
Interpol are terrible at writing lyrics. I don’t know if they get embarrassed by it. Take a song like “Slow Hands,” a song revealing little on a cursory listen except its “We spies, oh yeah, we slow hands” chorus, an innocuous grouping of words suggesting some sort of cloak and dagger, er, antics. (I’ve always found spy songs that sound like spy songs irritating. It’s like you’re in a college band and you discover a new sound you can play with, a new addition to your repertoire, and you feel obligated to write about what the song sounds like. It’s lazy.) But whatever it’s about, it gets a lot worse than that when you dissect the actual lyrics. (Well, not dissect really – more highlight the lyrics in order to ridicule.) How about “Now I submit my incentive is romance, I watch the pole dance of the stars, we rejoice because the hurting is so painless.” Go ahead, take a moment. Not only do we have incredibly clunky wordplay, but we get Banks’s apparent fascination with meaningless sexual encounters (and what is “the pole dance of the stars” anyway?), as well as a high school notebook oxymoronic scribbling (the “hurting is so painless,” woo!). (Seventeen-year-old Banks or Ralph Wiggum?: “Me fail English? That’s unpossible.”) Banks stays in high school mode with the execrable “You make me want to pick up a guitar and celebrate the myriad ways that I love you.” OK, so maybe this is less brooding teenager and more Kirk van Houten and his “glove of love.” But geesh. I mock, but “Slow Hands” is actually decent musically, a quick, grooving rock song that’s probably really good live. Just don’t pay attention to the lyrics. Are you sick of Paul Banks yet? Go to page 30. Are you a glutton for punishment? Head on over to page 37.
My friend Josh was in a pub in New York one time, and Paul Banks was at the bar. Someone had to have realized it, because an Interpol song came on the jukebox. Banks kind of looked up in recognition, and shrugged his shoulders down deeper into himself in an attempt to disappear. He didn’t. The song ended, but sure enough, another Interpol song replaced it. Banks slammed some cash down on the bar and darted the hell out of there.
I’ve wondered about this story, and while it’s pretty obvious it’s a simple story of a “celebrity” not wanting to be noticed in public, you have to kind of wonder if he was embarrassed by the songs. I know he plays the songs over and over in a live setting, but he doesn’t have to answer for them there. He leaves himself open to second guessing in a more intimate environment such as a bar though, and I can’t help but think that sometimes he merely writes lyrics to songs only because as the singer, he has to. Just a thought. As for the rest of the songs on Antics, they stand up fairly well to their Bright Lights counterparts, most mid-tempo rockers like “C’mere,” “Public Pervert,” and “Length of Love,” all perfectly enjoyable songs. (I do prefer the Interpol Remixes EP version of “Not Even Jail,” the Daniel Kessler remix spunking up the rhythm a bit, even though it’s not all that different from the original.) And although it ends on the fairly boring (and deceptively long, its five minutes feeling like twice that) “A Time to Be So Small,” it’s not the dealbreaker that will make you never want to listen to Antics again. In fact, despite my whining, it’s actually a pretty decent listen, average, yes, but decent. It’s one of those albums that runs out of mysteries to reveal after one or two spins. And that’s fine – it’s still something that’s good to throw on at Halloween parties. Are we done yet? Sure. Go to page 45. More to say? Page 72.
Paul Banks slinks back into the bar. He’s forgotten his sunglasses, even though it’s 10:45pm. “No I in Threesome” plays next. Banks looks up, face clearly wracked with emotion, and sheds a single tear, pining for his two ex-girlfriends. He affixes his sunglasses, puts his hands in the pockets of his Armani trousers, and turns and leaves just as Carlos D emerges from the shadows. Carlos twirls his villain mustache ominously, then reaches beneath his jacket, fingers brushing against the empty gun holster. If only he’d brought his revolver … he could have asked Paul how it works.
Oh, by all means, listen to Our Love to Admire. I promise you you’ll have a great time.
RIYL: Joy Division, The Killers, She Wants Revenge