Interpol is among the last major wave of rock bands gifted with both critical acclaim and financial success, most of which seem to have produced their best records before 2003, coincidentally the year the Pirate Bay began. In 2002, Interpol released Turn On the Bright Lights, which holds up as one of the few late-era rock records that somehow managed to be both best-selling and good. This brief wave is often referred to as "post-punk revival," which doesn’t make that much sense, but even I don’t want to be so pretentious as to say "post-post punk."
Interpol followed a common post-punk revival pattern: first album great, second album pretty good, everything thereafter too convoluted by overproduction, band drama, and hair stylists to feel authentic enough to deeply move anyone other than teens shopping at Urban Outfitters and/or their cool parents. Just take a look at the band’s hit song "The Heinrich Maneuver," off 2007’s Our Love to Admire. Supposedly a nod to novelist Don DeLillo's anti-consumerist opus White Noise, it was later featured in an AT&T commercial. Seems like a natural next step before, you know, touring with U2 (which they did). Post-punk revival my ass—Daddy needs a new Audi.
Now, four years after their last release, comes El Pintor, the band’s fifth studio album, titled after an anagram of their name. Nice! In honor of the release, the band played an hour-long set on Friday night at iHeartRadio’s corporate HQ’s bizarre pseudo-venue in Tribeca. I went down to check it out.
There were around 200 people there, most of whom appeared to be either jaded mid-30s music journalists or just-graduated PR interns named Stephanie. The band’s dramatic smoke-machine entrance was met with meticulously choreographed stage lighting, broadcast cameras, and at least 30 alt-yuppies holding flip cams.
The band went through the motions and did their little one-legged guitar dance moves despite wearing meticulously styled black Band with Extensive Label Funds clothing, and you know what? They played a great show. Old songs like "Evil," "Say Hello to Angels," and "Slow Hands" buttered me up for the new stuff: thoughtfully energetic tracks representing the band’s return to its old sound, but with a tasteful new layer of maturity and the mild cynicism one can only come to expect from an accomplished aging rock band. Paul Banks’s low drawl remains as strong as ever, especially when punctuated by Dan Kessler’s angular guitar parts.
I think I’m proud of Interpol. I was first introduced to them when "Obstacle 1" accompanied Brian Anderson’s part in Girl’s Yeah Right! skate video in 2004, and I've kept an eye on them ever since. The way Interpol has handled the balancing act of commercial success and artistic integrity serves as a reminder that it’s still possible to engage fruitfully with the music industry without having to suck Satan’s dick.
Up until this year, they appeared to have faded into bloated old John Varvatos sad-dad alt-rock obscurity, like the Strokes or Princesses of Leon. The outlook was grim for a while, but they’ve made a genuinely impressive comeback. Time to go to a goddamn Sam Goody and buy El Pintor on CD with my allowance money, because that’s what I would’ve done in 2004.