2007 / Music

Review: Interpol’s New Album Is More Of The Same

New York Neo-Goth Rockers Return With Third Album

To the skeptic, each song by Gotham New Wavers Interpol appears to inform to the same carefully designed directive: Copy Joy Division.

Photo: Matador Records

Photo: Capitol Records

Yes, they do sound a lot like Joy Division, but tabling the snarky question of originality for the moment, the quartet’s lonely-hearted music appears so elemental and each track is so similar that it seems like each emerges from a common mold. The music’s mechanical flavor — clanging, repetitive riffing and interwoven instrumentation on top of pulsating rhythms — clearly pledge allegiance to the early ’80s goth-rock founding fathers (and maybe a little Gang of Four for a little pasty-skinned funkiness). The lyrics, meanwhile, are dark, vaguely poetic monologues from one angst-ing lover to another, captured each instance in mid-conversation.

Up until now, it didn’t matter that Interpol sounded a lot like Joy Division or each track is written as a slight variation on a theme. It has worked for Interpol because they managed to make music that rivaled the original source in some instances. But now, the formula’s starting to lose its power. As in most printing operations, templates begin to fray and wear over time and eventually, the duplicates aren’t as brilliant as their predecessors because of the mold’s constant reuse. The same appears to be holding true for Interpol and each successive album.

The New Yorkers’ debut was a thoroughly impressive collection so potent enough to quiet grumblings that the group was imitating its dark side idols. Their second disc, “Antics,” wasn’t quite as strong but did add a couple of new gems worthy of slots on the group’s future greatest hits disc as well as your next Valentine’s Day mix CD. The group’s new album, “Our Love To Admire,” continues to suggest a creative slide. It is extravagantly melancholic and burns with the same romantic fire as the group’s trademark material, but these new tracks aren’t the compact, dynamic potential singles that energized wannabe romantics.

Taken track by track, “Our Love To Admire” certainly isn’t a complete disaster. The group’s stubborn songwriting pattern consistently delivers solid musical constructions of varying degrees of quality, and each is mildly enjoyable. Most are just promising enough to hint that perhaps the next track is an unrecognized hit that will turn it all around, but in the end, this never comes to pass. Only in an overview can one assess the disc’s redundant trappings. Despite its outward romanticism, a majority of the cuts here lack a truly emotive quality. Many of the songs are kind of boring.

Instead of playing to some listeners’ saccharine tastes with endearing hooks, Interpol puts its faith in their songs’ locomotive power. Album tracks like “All Fired Up,” “The Scale” and “Who Do You Think” bash away with concussive waves and hope to power through anyone’s drifting thoughts about what other new releases he or she has uploaded recently. The group hopes layers of counterpoising guitar chords, eerie piano motifs or shifting tempos will compensate for a vibrant melody. Time and time again, this proves a broken philosophy.

For example, two cuts at the record’s core, “The Heinrich Maneuver” and “Mammoth,” are both remarkably stronger tracks than their neighbors and yet still can’t unite together and connect in an engaging way. Each contains only patches of dense instrumental parts that compliment each other but never build to a gratifying resolution. With percussive guitar riffs, forceful bass thrusts and kettle drums, “The Heinrich Maneuver” has a more insistent, pummeling beat as its foundation, but “Mammoth” features many more intriguing components. The song opens with some curious falsetto by the normally bellowing frontman Paul Banks and emphasizes Banks’ and guitarist Daniel Kessler’s trade stabbing guitar licks. But all these are just fragments, and while interesting, can’t succeed without the inclusion of a better chorus.

The group finally turns out a powerful chorus for “No I In Threesome” by doing what it does best: crafting a pleading love poem. The track is classic Interpol. The guitar and bass weave between and around each other as a slamming piano, heard off in the distance, recalls the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man.” There’s also the dichotomy that exists between the lyrics and Banks’ deep baritone voice. On the microphone, Banks’ singing is a squall of emotion trapped in a deadpan monotone. Every word sung manages to express intense feelings while his tone is remains remarkably imperious. It’s a contradiction that is still beguiling after three records.

The album’s opening track, “Pioneer To The Falls,” doesn’t seek to build up to a hard-hitting chorus but instead relies on a steadily unwinding melody to magnetically draw people into the album. The song contains an aura of allusiveness and mystery that will keep people glued to it. The band fuses trilling guitar parts and a keyboard playing an Arabian snake-charming melody with sputtering bass and thunderous drumming.

Only on “Pace Is The Trick” does Interpol return to the heights of “Turn On Your Bright Lights” and “Antics.” The song stands head and shoulders above the album’s other tracks. A spindly guitar pattern traces a melody and supplies the backbone of the song. It creates a mood consumed with loneliness and pining. But the song’s greatest attribute is that it boasts the record’s best hook and vocal melodies, which Banks fills with images and phrases that give the songs a cinematic quality. Add the track’s snappy 2/4 drum beat, and all these factors coalesce into a composition of grandeur. The track is proof that the foursome can still pull it together.

With the exception of a handful of songs, “Our Love To Admire” is rife with cuts that are weighed down with muddled purposes and indistinct executions. The band’s old songs burned with passion, and listeners couldn’t escape their intensity. It didn’t matter who the band sounded like. It just mattered that it sounded amazing.

Now, Interpol’s magic formula has started to fail them. To keep up the quality, they will definitely need to move beyond their current “variation on a theme” approach and develop new forms for creating music. Given all that they’ve borrowed from Joy Division, this is one lesson that Interpol can still learn from their heroes.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2007 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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