What haven’t you heard about Interpol at this point? The naysayers will compare them to Joy Division, or say their music is a sub-par combination of The Strokes and Echo and the Bunnymen? They’ll say Interpol’s success is a direct result of their expensive-looking wardrobes and angular threads. On the other side, Interpol’s proponents will say they’re saviors, innovators who are the new kings of New York and soon, the new kings of the world. If New York City is the new Seattle, then Turn on the Bright Lights is the new Nevermind.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all. I know I have, and I’ve disagreed with every last bit of it. Lemme break this down by argument.
Argument No. 1: Interpol sucks. The simplest argument I can muster for this is “No, they don’t.” Just listen to Turn on the Bright Lights. Interpol knows how to structure a song. “Say Hello to Angels” is the kind of jumpy guitar rock that The Strokes are on the cusp of mastering; Interpol are already there. “PDA” is exactly what modern rock radio lacks these days, but so far it’s gotten the most play as the opener of every mix tape that I’ve made over the last four months. I suspect I’ll be opening lots of tapes with this song for the months and years to come.
Bright Lights also has some magnificent continuity. The cohesiveness of the instrumentation, most notably Carlos D’s consistently splendid bass lines, and the way the album flows, and the unified feel of the entire package are what make this a CD that you can put on and listen to without ever having to worry about skipping track four. I always find something on this album that I hadn’t noticed before. You can come back to this over and over again. Few bands accomplish that in their first full-length.
Argument No. 2: Turn on the Bright Lights is a classic album. Let’s put this in perspective. 2001 was an awful year for music. The first nine months were void of any decent new music and then 9/11 took our attention away from the rest of year. It was really easy to overlook the slew of good releases from bands like Erase Errata and V For Vendetta when airliners were colliding into skyscrapers. By the time 2002 came around everyone was desperate to hear something. This led to a lot of really good albums getting more praise than they may have deserved. Both Wilco and Trail of Dead put out very good albums last year that were thoroughly overrated. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to add Turn on the Bright Lights to that list.
There are some frustrating chinks in Interpol’s armor. While Bright Lights is devoid of any bad songs, it has its moments that are either underwhelming or sometimes even flat-out embarrassing. Check snippets of Interpol’s lyrics, some of which are unintentionally hilarious. When Paul Banks sings: “I’m going to play with the braids that you came here with tonight,” on “Obstacle 2,” one of the more sinister tracks on the record, it’s pretty damn out of place.
Conclusion: A handful of bad lyrics and awkward moments here and there aren’t enough to make me stop listening to Turn on the Bright Lights with an alarming amount of regularity. An album need not be a masterpiece to be this enjoyable; it just has to be damn good. I didn’t start listening to music to be pelted with brilliance at every corner. I started listening to music because of bands like Interpol who write excellent songs and make albums that I can spend the rest of my life with. If I want brilliance I’ll listen to Sonic Youth or Sleater-Kinney. But then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if Interpol surprised us with something truly brilliant someday.