Happy 10th Birthday to Turn On The Bright Lights by Interpol
The year is 2002 and the world is enamoured with revivalist garage rock and post-punk. The Strokes and The White Stripes have just blown stale plod-along acoustic indie out of the water. Everyone’s throwing their NY baseball caps away in the crushing shame that they ever had time for Fred Durst and Nu-Metal.
Is This It by The Strokes is being heralded as the soundtrack of a generation and record labels are frothing at the mouth and clamouring over each other like feral dogs to snap up the latest vaguely retro-sounding act.
Messy hair, torn jeans and a pair of dirty Converse go a long, long way in 2002.
The coming years will see many a tight-jeaned troubador ride the mighty heights of this wave – from the good (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kills, The Walkmen, Kings of Leon, BRMC, Arctic Monkeys etc), the bad (The Datsuns, Jet, Razorlight) to the downright ugly (Kaiser Chiefs, The Kooks, The Fratellis, Bromhead’s Jacket, The Others – Christ, what were we thinking?)
Above all of this furore, one band stood alone. Before inspiring wave after wave of imitators, Interpol posed the infectiously sinister side of the revival. But while the music press devoured the band for their formal attire, sharp suits and effortless cool, their debut album showcased something few of their contemporaries could.
Unlike the majority of their peers and successors, they had the substance to match their style.
“It’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights…”
Frontman Paul Banks’ crooning baritone married with the band’s dirge-y post-punk approach was only ever going to land Interpol with unfortunate and lazy comparisons to Joy Division. However take the vocals out of the equation and, to paraphrase the similarly compared Editors, that’s where the similarity ends.
Not only does the sound of Interpol’s debut owe just as much to the college-rock twang of classic REM and the gothic pop menace of The Cure, but there’s simply far more scope, colour and life on Turn On The Bright Lights than there is on Unknown Pleasures and Closer combined.
While Ian Curtis was trapped by his own personal demons and existential crises, Banks is an abstract story-teller – in a similar vein to Beck. He paints a vivid picture of decadent romance (Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down), the complex relationship between the grime, the glamour and the community spirit of New York in a post-9/11 landscape (NYC) and says something weird and cool about a butcher with 16 knives – OH LOOK! IT STOPPED SNOWING! (Roland)
Some bands spend years trying to find their feet. But Turn On The Bright Lights is the sound of a band fully-formed. Banks’ bold and booming vocals met with Kessler’s fierce and choppy fretwork go straight for the jugular.
From the subtle melodrama of Untitled (“I will surprise you sometimes, I’ll come around, when you’re down…”) and the wild-eyed ambition of Say Hello To The Angels (“I want your silent parts, the parts the birds love, I know there’s such a place”) to the tender mourning of The New (“I wish I could live free, hope it’s not beyond me, settling down takes time…”) the songcraftsmanship on Turn On The Bright Lights is loaded with feeling, confidence and intent. In 2002, Interpol arrived.
In short, Bright Lights is Interpol at their best.
Paul Banks’ wry wit and brooding tones sit in perfect juxtaposition to Dan Kessler’s cool and breezy but angular guitar chops in a harmony not heard since The Smiths. Then Sam Fogarino’s drumming is at it’s most metronomic, intricate and pounding – making for the perfect accompaniment to Carlos D’s trademark meandering and playful bass.
It really is no wonder that TOTBL ranked so highly in so many of the music press’s ‘best of’ lists for not only 2002 – but the decade. Bar a few hammy lyrics, it’s a fairly flawless listen from start to finish. It’s an ESSENTIAL album.
But where do you go from there?
Their follow-up Antics expanded on the bands’ pop ambitions with a grander sense of scale, warmth and colour – and while it worked as a consistent and charming record, it never gained the same landmark status as TOTBL.
From there on, the band have floundered somewhat.
While Our Love To Admire showed the same inimitable hallmarks of elegance that we’ve come to expect from Interpol, it was ultimately a great album lost inside an erratic attempt to cover more orchestral and classic rock sounds. Their self-titled fourth album was a return to form in many respects: it was bold, expansive, clever and contained some of the band’s greatest songs, but at times the record just wandered too far out of the band’s comfort zone and some sounds became ugly and nauseating.
Carlos D’s departure following the completion of their fourth record didn’t quite have the same impact as many would expect. While their was a noticeable hole where Dengler should have been, the remaining Brooklynites still held you enthralled onstage. Despite the lack of Carlos D’s sinister and piercing presence, the rest of the band drew the focus in to the core of their essence – the atmosphere, the sultry imagery and their tight-knit musicianship (not to mention the pretty impressive stuff than Dan Kessler can do with his feet).
Plus Kessler has always been ‘the daddy’ of Interpol. Not only is he the band’s founder, but it’ is he who crafts the initial vertebrae of all Interpol songs before they go through their infamous industrial and democratic process.
The band themselves have come out and said that Carlos was ‘uninterested’ in playing bass for Interpol in recent years and even ‘lacked conviction’ on-stage. One can only hope that their next effort will be the sound of a band going full steam ahead and all-fired up. They could still top the dizzying heights of their own benchmarks and give The National a run for their money once again.
After ten years of Interpol we should remain grateful. They’re still an ‘album’ band in a world full of disposable and over-stylised one-hit wonders. On stage, they create a bewitching spectacle and an experience of what most bands would see as a day job. And despite their patchy recent record, you can always count on Interpol to bring a touch of grace, class and decadence. Long may their bright light shine.