Interpol have always been something of an enigma. They’re a rock band, but their lyrical content and admiration of shoegaze placed them in a slightly higher echelon than some of their contemporaries. They’re not a dance band, but their music does evoke a certain movement-heavy response. They’ve made a career of being this and that and something of their own creation. What started as a flirtation with keys and textures in 2007’s Our Love to Admire becomes a full-blown love affair with big, ambient noises and waves of sounds and effects. However, like their M.O. in albums past, the story of their transformation is so much more than any of that.
The most appealing thing about the album is its rich narrative. It’s a story that builds from an emotionally-resilient semi-joyousness in the beginning (“Success”, “Memory Serves”, and “Summer Well”) to creepy, morose, and sinister by the end (specifically the last two tracks, “All of the Ways” and “The Undoing”). The first half of the album sees a man with hope and even some life (“Memory Serves” buzzes with a kind of surf rock energy, helped by the buzzing guitar). But by the end, he’s given up hope and has clearly lost touch and created a world of his own, where his love is his once more.
The narrative moves along so steadily because of lead singer Paul Banks’ voice, which is a lively amalgamation of tones and feelings. His drone powers through so much of the ferocious sound that it acts as a beacon of utter depression. It’s especially great in “All of the Ways”, where he chants “All of the ways you’ll make it up for me”. But more than that, it’s the brilliant pacing found throughout the record. Each track flows into the next perfectly, with “All of the Ways” as the emotional high point and the “The Undoing” picking up in the afterglow of this destruction. But it tells a really good story, specifically with “Try It On”, the last grasp of sanity for our hero. The back and forth in tracks six through eight represent the back and forth we all experience when dealing with heartache. And while heartache is as plentiful in pop music as guitars, this has a universal appeal while still maintaining its uniqueness as a story arc.
More than just a great story to follow, the way in which the story is actually built musically is more brilliant than the subject matter and its subsequent shift. From track one through five, the band starts with more of their more fundamental rock essentials. Then, from track six through 10, they get to their desired output, albeit slowly and pretty incrementally: That huge sound is less about rocking and more about creating a very particular vibe. Even Banks’ voice seems to get more manic here, a place where he recognizes more of the obscure, intangible elements keeping them apart. The whole LP has a very operatic. Phantom of the Opera feel, with plenty of big ambient noises and keys to punctuate the truly dramatic moments. Up until track five, “Barricade”, there’s lots of shoegaze-y walls of distorted guitars. Toward the middle, there’s a clear switch to a style that’s more stripped down, one that’s less about the noise and more about creating a soundscape based on the principles of some very demonic dream pop.
If there’s an issue to be had with this effort, it’d be that lots of bands do this grandiose style, many of them even better than Interpol. This genre-bending works for the band, but some people may go elsewhere for this brand of music (like Arcade Fire’s new album, which outshines Interpol’s reach in concept). It also makes you wonder how far they will go, as this album is already a struggle between the classically-tinged heavyweight tracks and the featherweight of their streetwise, cynical brand of NYC rock. But even though the overall concept sounds like it’d outshine the music itself or even deem unnecessary any true inventiveness, it’s the small touches, “The Undoing” as the ending credits of the album, the minor tweaks of psychedelic music, the entirety of “Always Malaise (The Man I Am)”, and the brevity of such a somber, somber album, that makes any concerns almost invalid. And while this latest album has only made the band that much more mysterious, it’s a puzzle you’ll mull over for quite some time.