Ultra-stylish post-punks Interpol have always been a tricky act to decode. Not quite slotting into the world of fellow New Yorkers The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they’ve since splintered off even more from those early-‘00s groups, filling their own strange niche. Joy Division comparisons have followed their every step, but they still own a different world. And there’s yet to be a gloomy post-Interpol band to really pick up the baton – Editors were too earnest, White Lies too pop-driven, The Horrors too experimental.
Which is to say, Interpol are one of a kind. And over time, they’ve released some brilliant records, plus the odd dud. We’ve had a go at choosing favourites, two decades since they formed.
5. ‘Interpol’ (2010)
This record marked Interpol’s lowest point. It was the last album they made with former bassist Carlos D., and it sounds like a band reluctant to let go of their past. Noir post-punk is still their trade, but attempts to make fuller, more exploratory songs fall limp. They try and replace thudding, concrete drums with light electronic pads, and it doesn’t work. Banks’ lyrics are morose to the point where they’re impenetrable. But if there’s one compliment to pay ‘Interpol’, it’s in how honestly it portrays the struggle of being a band, trying to live up to past heroics, while also attempting to evolve. “I was on my way / Chasing my damage,” sings Banks on closing track ‘The Undoing’. It sounds like a down-in-the-dumps parting statement, but thankfully there was more left in the tank.
4. ‘Our Love to Admire’ (2007)
The band’s third LP will be getting a 10th anniversary reissue this year. It’s a lot of fanfare for a record many deem to represent the start of Interpol’s sharp late-‘00s decline. But that’s tough on ‘Our Love to Admire’. It arrived on the coattails of some serious standard-bearers, and if some of these songs were released today, they’d be seen in a different light. ‘No I in Threesome’ is a seedy, hungover call to arms; ‘The Heinrich Maneuver’ a fidgety anthem; ‘Mammoth’ a spiteful, non-sensical blitz. Interpol were still scaling huge heights back in 2007, but ‘Our Love to Admire’ does at times sound like a reluctant last gasp.
3. ‘El Pintor’ (2014)
Most recent record ‘El Pintor’ represented a huge return to form. Way against the odds, too. ‘Interpol’ seemed like such a pronounced goodbye, a concession of defeat. But then came this fully-charged, reenergised record, packing the group’s most ferocious songs since their ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ debut. Self-produced by the remaining three members, self-sufficiency may have been the saving grace. They found a new way of working and a new means of expression, in stark contrast to the last record. Translating to “the painter” in Spanish, title ’El Pintor’ is an anagram of ‘Interpol’, but it’s also symbolic of how reinvention helped get the band back on track.
2. ‘Antics’ (2005)
Separating Interpol’s best two records is a bit like choosing between identical twins. About as easy as understanding why Paul Banks sings: “My best friend’s from Poland and um, he has a beard.” That’s not to say they’re identikit records – far from it. ‘Antics’ is a super-slick, pop-oriented beast, completely front-facing, whereas their debut was rooted in New York’s seedy undercurrent. But it says a lot about the band’s achievements that a record boasting ‘Evil’, ‘Slow Hands’ and ‘C’mere’ can rank second. If ‘Antics’ is let down by anything, it’s in the hints of sluggishness that went on to define the next two records. ‘Narc’ is great, but it doesn’t have the untouchable glow of something like ‘Untitled’. Closer ‘A Time to Be So Small’ strives for something it can’t quite obtain. But those are tiny snipes levelled at an album that, for the most part, lives up to the hype.
1. ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ (2002)
From the threadbare opening notes of ‘Untitled’ to the final thud of ‘Leif Erikson’, right through to the melancholy red screen artwork, everything fits on ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’. Banks’ vocal is smoke-stained and propulsive, a bolt out of the blue. Carlos D.’s wriggling basslines are in a world of their own. Every stab of echo-drenched guitar creates its own mood. And these distinct elements piece together to create their own little musical alcove. Very little has sounded like it since, but without ’TOTBL’, we probably wouldn’t have The Killers’ ‘Hot Fuss’, or the empty space of The xx’s signature sound. It’s the full package: aesthetic, attitude and songs all marching as one.