It’s hard to celebrate the birthdays of our favorite records. It ages us. When the soundtrack to the most pivotal moments of your teenage years suddenly reaches its first decade, you get some sudden perspective on everything you’ve done with yourself so far. And when that soundtrack comes in the form of one of the most important records of the aughts, you get a hard look on how the music world as a whole’s grown up alongside you.
Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights wasn’t just a stunning debut from a talented young band. It blew out the walls of post-punk as we knew it, taking those hard and fast downstrokes and putting them inside new acres of space. The depth, density, and sheer volume of the record was more on the scale of something like Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor than anything that had ever been called post-punk before. If it didn’t look so silly, we might even have been right to call it post-post-punk.
While Bright Lights‘s soundscapes were what broke so much ground in its genre, Paul Banks’s lyrics and the way he delivers them set the band apart from the masses of sugar-coated, radio-friendly post-punk revival hits. Oblique, surreal, yet at times unnervingly blunt, the words scattered across Interpol’s debut still ring as perfect puzzle boxes atop gorgeous cascades of sound.
There are a lot of great lyrics on Turn On The Bright Lights, which turns 10 this week. These are our favorites.
10. “My best friend’s a butcher. He has sixteen knives. He carries them all over the town–at least, he tries. Oh look, it stopped snowing! My best friend’s from Poland and um, he has a beard. But they caught him with his case in a public place. That is what we had feared.” – “Roland”
I don’t know that “um” has ever been used effectively as part of a song lyric, nor do I believe it ever will again. Roland stands as a frantic little spot of absurdity in an album that’s predominantly melancholic and for that, we adore it.
9. “Sleep tight. Grim rite. We have two hundred couches where you can sleep tonight.” – “PDA”
Does it mean anything? Do we care? The sing-songy syllable slinging followed by the oddly Floydian dream imagery of sleeping across two hundred couches at once levels this breakup tune with the best.
8. “It’s in the way that she walks. Her heaven is never enough. She puts the weights in my heart, she puts the weights into my little heart.” – “Obstacle 1”
The odd physicality of Banks’s emotional processes (it’s all about weight across albums) combines with the ineffable pathos of the phrase “my little heart” for one hell of a line.
7. “There’s something that’s invisible. There’s some things you can’t hide. Try to detect you when I’m sleeping, in a wave you say goodbye.” – “Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down
The final murmur to this mourning fable tops it off even better than Banks’s insistent chorus of “she broke away, broke away.” Whether she’s lost to the sea or the city or addiction or what, we can’t help but miss Stella the way Banks does.
6. “I guess you could say I gave you my edge. I can’t pretend I don’t need to defend some part of me from you.” – “The New”
Trading freedom for stability is no easy choice to make. Even the most successful intimate relationships come at the price of losing your “edge,” as it were. And yes, there’s always that part of yourself that you feel the need to protect even from the person who loves you the most.
5. “I had seven faces–thought I knew which one to wear. I’m sick of spending these lonely nights training myself not to care. The subway, she is a porno. Pavements, they are a mess. I know you’ve supported me for a long time. Somehow, I’m not impressed.” – “NYC”
The loneliness and multiplicity that accompany life in New York City is rendered perfectly in the metropolis’s namesake track. Somehow, dissolving into the crowd-infested sidewalks just further alienates you as it amplifies your more selfish tendencies.
4. “Homespun desperation’s knowing inside your cover’s always blown.” – “Hands Away”
The way this one trickles through the murk only adds to its poignancy. Banks wails desperately at the irreversible break between the person he wants to be seen as and the person he knows he has to be seen as. Don’t we all?
3. “I’m raping all around me until the last drop is behind you.” – “PDA”
Only Paul Banks could write a song about spraying his semen all over the world until it splashes the woman who dumped him and then have that song take over the airwaves like nobody’s business. If only more lyricists were so artfully, addictively disgusting.
2. “I want your silent parts, the parts the birds love. I know there’s such a place.” – “Say Hello To Angels”
Rifle through your favorite love songs all you want, but is there a more poetic statement of romantic desire than this? The parts the birds love? I melt.
1. “She says it helps with the lights out. Her rabid glow is like braille to the night. She swears I’m a slave to the details, but if your life is such a big joke, why should I care?” – “Leif Erikson”
This whole song reverberates as one of the truest takes on a troubled relationship ever written. It’s like learning a new language, it’s got to be held with kid gloves. Even the odder bits–braille to the night, her love’s a pony–somehow resonate in the context of the melody. Everything inside Bright Lights culminates in “Leif Erikson,” this plea for raw and honest companionship in the wake of a love that’s breaking apart. It hurts. It hurts so real.