When Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ was published in 1859 the world choked on its breakfast. The scientific community may have been two steps ahead at accepting it for the truth it is, but the public were mostly God-fearing folk who couldn’t see the conscienceless carnage that acts as the scaffold to the “beauty” of nature. Which omni-benevolent God would let so many innocent weaklings die for the purpose of strengthening the gene pool? And so, here we are, 152 years later and we’re finally beginning to accept what was then compelling and is now almost blindingly obvious. The theory that explains the process and meaning of life itself and a century and a half later, and it’s still a controversial subject. So what have we learned from this little detour ladies and gentlemen?
1. Sometimes the evidence is there; you just have to look for it.
2. Immediacy is no indicator of quality.
3. If there is a God, he’s a sadistic bully.
Anyway, let’s focus on the first two for now. After two redrafts, around seven or eight repeated spins and many confused and frustrated facial expressions, I have come to realise that Interpol’s fourth is really, underneath it all, really very good. That’s not what I thought at first though. Here’s a quote from my original draft of this review a month ago:
“The vibrancy of their first three albums is gone in favour of a plodding, monotonous dirge which stubbornly refuses to sound individual, or indeed, interesting.”
The main thing I was focusing on was the fact that, on first (second, third and maybe even fourth) listen, all the songs sound very similar and laborious, but it’s another slow burner; this time, a very slow burner. It’s a more subtle listen with virtually no single worthy cuts – they’re all growers, but when they grow, they grow and grow. Right now I’m getting to know the songs properly and I’m realising that the production is in fact quite wonderful. Tiny details that I would never have noticed before reveal themselves with more listens. The whistling on ‘Try It On’ is almost un-noticeable but it’s there and that’s what counts. The songwriting is more subtle than before, with the tracks retaining similar moods throughout, but this is eventually easy to get over when you realise how smartly written and executed they are. One of my favourites, ‘Lights’, grows from a guitar line like a trickle of oil falling into a gutter which stays the same while the surroundings hypnotically build up into an anthem of emotional discomfort.
This is not Interpol as you know it, despite the fact that the album is self-titled. For a start, they sound less like New York and more like the rain-soaked Gotham City from the Batman comics. It trades in nuance, not exhibition. The guitars now sound monochrome, but still in that funeral ringing style, while drummer Greg Drudy’s kit has become more expansive, using less obvious sounds; more hissing hi-hats than rumbling toms. The lyrics are more cryptic, the kind of thing you really listen to carefully while scratching your head and stroking your chin; when coupled with Paul Banks’ heaving vocals they seem even more mystifying, as if it’s a grindingly uncomfortable stream of consciousness slowed down four times over until it’s even more tense. In a way, it’s the tension and the glacial pace of the record that initially makes it so frustrating, but it’s definitely worth the trouble.
While it at first sounds like an inferior Xeroxed copy of the moodier moments on ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’ or ‘Antics’, ‘Interpol’ slowly unravels as a very different beast and while they may be risking alienating their many fans, the band are clearly moving forward. If they build on this formula and make it more accessible they could have a real stunner on their hands. So, basically, don’t judge an book by it’s cover, don’t judge a challenging theory by its controversies and don’t judge an album unless you’ve heard it a good five times.
Listen to this: In a badly lit town that is not New York.
Key Track: Safe Without