Interpol, or Releasing the Weight of Expectations
Sometimes the weight of expectations can be debilitating. I often have to remind myself of that when waiting to hear something new from one of my favorite artists. That sentiment is doubly resonant for me right now, on one hand, as I somewhat obsessively check my e-mail for the coveted link that will allow me to download Radiohead’s In Rainbows, about whose novel sales strategy I wrote here. On the other, it’s foremost in my mind as I listen again to Interpol’s third album Our Love to Admire, which I purchased, true to form, on the day of its release last summer.
Many people, and especially my friend Erik, know how much I was immediately taken with their debut album on Matador, Turn on the Bright Lights, in 2002. What I loved about the recording was the way the band brought together so well the sounds of so many artists I already loved and fashioned from them something that sounded nonetheless fresh and original. While I’d been impressed by a few songs I’d heard on the radio, I wasn’t really prepared for how profoundly the album would strike me. In it, I heard echoes, of course, of Joy Division, but more pertinently I heard stylistic reminders of Television, PiL, the Smiths and much less well-known groups like Wire Train. There’s not a song on the album that I don’t absolutely love, but early on my stoppers were “Untitled” (the opener), “PDA,” “The New” and “Obstacle 2.” The last one especially was like food for me. When poor Erik returned from three months in Japan (where, in the three preceding days, he’d just gone on his first dates with the woman he married back in June) and wanted to tell me about his trip on the ride back from the airport, all I wanted to do was make him listen to the album. While he wasn’t too keen on doing so then, he eventually did and loved it too.
Flash forward a couple of years, when my love for the first album had me salivating over the imminent release of Antics. When I finally got the chance to audition it, predictably, the second album wasn’t a presentation of material exactly like that on the first. It was a lot more varied, with fewer songs containing interlocking steady eighth-note bass and guitar patterns. Once I got the first album out of my mind, I finally came to love the second, though still perhaps slightly less than its predecessor.
Moving ahead another two years, I found myself again wondering how Interpol’s forthcoming release would sound. As details trickled in, I started getting nervous. The band had signed with Capitol Records, and Peter Katis (who engineered the first two albums) was out, being replaced by Rich Costley (who co-produced the album), and Claudius Mittendorfer. The second item was more troubling than the first, since Costley in particular is best known for his work with two bands I don’t really like: Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party. Combined, that knowledge and my already high expectations seemed to promise (and did) that my first listen to Our Love to Admire was disappointing.
Since the band will be playing Chicago two days from now, I decided I’d give the album another try in preparation for the concert. And guess what? I now think it’s fine piece of work. One of the songs that recalls previous work (the one chosen as the lead single), “The Heinrich Manuever,” is actually my least favorite song on the recording. What gets me more excited are the tracks that build on previous strengths and widen the band’s sonic palette. I have in mind here, in sequence, “Pioneer to the Falls,” “No I in Threesome,” “The Scale,” “Pace Is the Trick,” “Wrecking Ball” and “The Lighthouse” (that’s six out of eleven). For building on strengths, “Pace…” is a good example. It has those eighth-note patterns as well as the sectional building of tension and drama characteristic of earlier songs like “The New.” In this case, however, the eighth notes aren’t the most important thing. Indeed, it’s the changes in (and the sound of) the drum kit that really make this song work. From slightly the midway point forward, I can’t resist moving in sympathy with the beat. I could make similar observations about the opener, “Pioneer to the Falls.” Carlos D’s bass playing is appropriately prominent in the mix (his athletic, non-eighth-note bass playing has always been a crucial element of the band’s sound). What makes the song seem like an advance is the greater variability of the arrangement. That is, the changes appear within, and not merely in the transitions between, sections. And (spoiler ahead), its false ending (at 4:14) is remarkably effective. All of the ear candy (e.g., the weird voices that emerge from the right speaker at the ends of verses, the stereo piano playing the single-pitch straight eighths on “The Scale”) is thrilling. “Wrecking Ball” is pretty and tenderly melancholy in a way that few other songs by them have been. It has its own ear candy, of course, an unexpected coda that must be enjoyed repeatedly and another wonderfully varied arrangement/orchestrational palette. And the album’s closer, “The Lighthouse,” registers like a shot out of the dark. The Dick-Dale-ish tremeloed guitar parts featured throughout the track are profoundly beautiful, becoming all the more so when Banks enters to give one of his most muted, contemplative performances. Perhaps most strikingly, the bass playing of Carlos D. and the drumming of Sam Fogarino show up only in the track’s final minute and make for a teasing, seductive album ending.
When I first heard it, I never thought I would love this album so much. The weight of expectations can indeed be debilitating, and its slow grinding-down of clarity can be deafening. In those cases where we can manage the casting off of that weight or slightly shift its burden, some intimately satisfying things can emerge. I’m glad that, again, I could this time.