Saturday, September 18, 2010

Album Review: Interpol (2.5/5)

Late last year I discovered Interpol's 2002 debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, which I grew to really love and actually included in my 20 favorite albums of the 2000s. I praised the album for its sonic beauty and dual-guitar melodies. I've read that their subsequent albums were not as good, particularly their third, although I haven't listened to them enough to form my own opinion.

I can, however, say that their fourth album, Interpol, is a disappointment. Whereas that great first album was melodically interesting and moody, here the mood dial seems stuck on "bleak," as the songs offer up a muddled, depressing sound void of much variation or sharp melody. Case in point are the opening tracks, "Success" and "Memory Serves," whose murky and generally depressing sound open the album on a weak note.

There are a few highlights early on though. "Summer Well" is a little cleaner and a little brighter, making it one of the few standout tracks. Sadly, the mood doesn't last, as "Light" plunges the album back into bitter austerity. "Barricade," one of the album's more upbeat and more interesting tracks, features a prominent bass line, as well as sharper guitar playing, reminding me what I liked about their earlier work. Too bad the bassist left shortly after completing this album.

With regard to their use of piano, the band seems to have created a few simple note sequences which are repeated endlessly under other layers of repetitive instrumentation. "Safe Without," for example, consists of layers of repetitive elements (guitar, strings, drums) that change little throughout the song. The monotony may strike the appropriate mood, but it doesn't make for very enjoyable music. "Always Malaise" lays the depression on quite thick, from the title to the painfully drawn out vocal and repetitive classical piano refrain.

"Try It On" is pretty similar to those songs. I'd probably like this song better though if the piano refrain wasn't just repeated over and over. At least it has a decent beat, but then there's no drumbeat on heavy-sounding "All of the Ways," which layers shimmering, distorted guitar under synth effects and minimal beats, plus an occasional piano trill. By the time the album closes with snoozer "The Undoing," Interpol has, in fact, undone a lot of my admiration generated by their early work.

A shame this isn't better. For this album, the band returned to their original indie label, Matador, after having made their third album under the big-name Capitol Records (Parlophone in the UK), in hopes the switch would help spark the old magic of their early work. Apparently it wasn't just the label that was the problem though. It's not a complete disaster, but it should have been a lot better.

Best: Barricade, Summer Well

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