I remember my first experience with Interpol vividly. In between saying goodbye to friends leaving for college during an unusually heavy rainstorm, I stopped to pick up a copy of their debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, whose New York hype, Joy Division resurrection, and supposed hip-ness screamed disappointment but seemed unable to avoid slobbering critical praise. From the first seconds, the reverbed guitars of "Untitled" echoed the water pounding on my car and put forth the fact that Interpol would not be the Strokes starring Ian Curtis nor any other over-hyped schlock, but rather the beautiful transformation of storms and isolation into sound. The debut helped Interpol climb into the Who’s Who of the new millennium, and its sequel, Antics, was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year.
This anticipation isn’t necessarily a good thing. Just as with the Strokes’s debut, Turn on the Bright Lights violated the expectation that "over-hype equals crap" and was dubbed one of the year’s best simply because it was extremely solid; that everything sounded a bit homogenous after eleven tracks was forgiven. Now it’s that dreaded time for the sophomore-album shakes; again, like the Strokes, Interpol has forgone music snobs’ hopes that they’d revolutionize music and have done little to change their formula. But whereas Room On Fire flew by on the merits of its near-perfect songcraft, Antics succeeds in many respects, but is unfortunately somewhat flawed.
Opener "Next Exit" bodes well for the band, beginning with a Spiritualized-aping organ playing an immediately familiar progression. Things only get better as Paul Banks, sounding less like Ian Curtis and more like Michael Stipe, proudly declares, "We’re not going to the town/ We’re going to the city," a fine cousin to Bright Lights‘s resolute, "I will surprise you sometimes/ I’ll come around," and to the New York optimism of "NYC." Like "Untitled" and so much else on Interpol’s debut, "Next Exit" is an exercise in simplicity, and "Evil," which follows right after, mimics the desperate, structurally wandering rock of Bright Lights‘s track two, "Obstacle 1." The similarities between the two albums only grow with further listening.
With a few exceptions, Interpol rarely experiments on Antics, and their earlier inclination to roam away from expected hooks and choruses is often curtailed. If anything, that distinct sound of desolation contrasted with catharsis that Interpol created two years ago is reined in to the mainstream, with the pop of the Strokes and dance-rock of Franz Ferdinand permeating through pieces like "Slow Hands" and "C’mere."
That’s not to say these songs aren’t great, as most of Antics is. The emotional explosions found on "Evil" (containing great lyrics such as "You’re weightless, semi-erotic/ You need someone to take you there") and "Take You on a Cruise" are nothing short of astounding and beautiful. "Public Pervert" is a remarkably perfect work and the album’s largest stylistic leap, combining divine George Harrison and Jonny Greenwood guitars with a strangely hypnotic tambourine and dance-beat second-half freak-out to build what has become my favorite song of 2004. It’s a testament to the high quality of "Pervert" that the three following songs, which finish the album, can’t help but seem completely lackluster and uninspired.
The Strokes passed the sophomore-album test, and with Antics, Interpol comes through with success, but also with a bit of wariness for the future. Julian Casablancas and Co. can continue puking out instantly classic rock songs in their blackouts, but Interpol is at risk of sounding stale. Songs like "Public Pervert" show the band still has more than enough life and brilliance, but it’s their choice whether or not to grasp onto this light and jump into the musical unknown. Here’s to hoping they do.