Title: El Pintor
Release Date: September 8, 2014
Label: Matador Records
Twelve years after Turn on the Bright Lights, Paul Banks, Sam Fogarino and Daniel Kessler are still mired in the challenge of recapturing the lightning in a bottle so evident on their debut.
What Bright Lights contributed in dark, confident and emotive rock songs was given an unforeseen cultural significance after 9/11 and lauded by critics as one of the best of the year, if not the decade. It was certified gold in 2011, and has stood as Interpol’s blueprint and mission statement, a harrowing album of loss, power, and dangerously treble-y guitars. Characteristically, their fifth release, El Pintor, is a stiff and polished record that dresses in a suit two sizes too small. The new album is also their first without original bassist Carlos Dengler, whose contribution to the band’s best work Paul Banks described as “huge”.
What strikes me right away is the immaculate production value. On lead single “All the Rage Back Home” Kessler’s guitar is transformed into a six-string chorus, Banks’ bass rumbles with a palpable force and Fogarino’s drums shove the song forward in confidence. This track is deceptively great, in that it is hardly matched over the 35 minutes that follow. In all its glossiness and expectation El Pintor often fails to hit me in the heart. The busy, scattered lead guitar lines during the verses of “Same Town, New Story” seem utterly unconcerned with the chord progression and undeniably detract from the song’s enjoyment. Elsewhere, songs like “Breaker 1” and “Twice as Hard” simply fail to stand out.
Despite an awkward transition from chorus to verse, I’m impressed with how big “Tidal Wave” gets. Its subtle keyboard track represents a welcome expansion on Interpol’s heavily guitar-driven sound.
“Everything is Wrong” is a rare moment in which everything clicks. The band seem excited, not suffocated by what it means to be Interpol in 2014, and therein lies the problem: being Interpol in 2014 means being tirelessly reminded of your past glory and current irrelevance. This is a crushing position creatively, but Banks and company have made the best of their circumstances. They’re veterans, and while the songs may not entirely be there, this album cycle nonetheless feels like a rebirth for Interpol.
To experience the band at their most pure and capable, I highly recommend seeing them live. (Lo and behold, they play San Diego’s House of Blues on the 24th). I personally witnessed a majestic performance of theirs at FYF Fest in Los Angeles this past month. They sounded huge, the crowd gave them a joyous response, and I might have seen Banks crack a smile or two. And no, they didn’t play “Obstacle 1”.