Review: Interpol, El Pintor

The iconic New York band return with their fifth LP.
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The iconic New York band return with their fifth LP.
interpol el pintor

opinion byBENJI TAYLOR < @BenjiTaylorMade >

The turn of the millennium passes by without incident. The world’s computers don’t shut down; SkyNet doesn’t trigger a nuclear showdown between nervous super-powers; there’s no asteroid-induced global meltdown. Instead, something even more gut-wrenchingly horrendous happens: Coldplay release their debut album Parachutes, and commence their stratospheric ascent to biggest-band-in-the-world status. They’re sad times for music lovers - in a way it’s worse than any Armageddon event: indie-rock is dying on its ass, sputtering out its last breath in the doldrums. In desperation, a secret collective of embittered and disillusioned record company execs gather to make a series of Faustian pacts: in return for their souls, and the lives of their firstborn, the great god of rock ‘n’ roll will send a Holy Trinity of messianic rock acts to provide CPR and resuscitate the music world’s stuttering, fluttering heart…

Enter The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the real ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ – Interpol: four young scamps from NYC whose debut LP Turn On The Bright Lights - a ferocious cocktail of dark, brooding, jagged post-punk wizardry - is the best thing to come out of New York since the deep-fried Twinkie. Four young rogues with an unquenchable thirst for revelry, a titanic appetite for narcotics, and an unparalleled and prodigious ability to recast and reforge the icy post-punk sounds of the past into something darkly beautiful.

El Pintor, their fifth LP, and the first since the lacklustre cinematic introspection of 2010’s self-titled Interpol, sees the band rediscover the fire that made them so thrilling to begin with. Interpol was far from a terrible collection of tracks ("Summer Well" was an outstanding piece of music), but it was born of internal band friction, and Carlos Dengler – uber-bassist, uber-personality and, if band reports are to be believed, uber-wanker – left the band shortly after its release. El Pintor is of course an anagram of the band’s name, as well as the Spanish term for “The Painter”: a clear message that the band are striving to create art after the low point of their last LP, and the departure of Dengler.

And they succeed, in more ways than one. Traditional Interpol motifs abound: guitarist Daniel Kesler’s angular riffs crackle with apocalyptic fury, the tracks are shrouded in a glacial Gothic ambience, and lead singer Paul Banks’ vocal is still deliciously otherworldly. He continues to sound simultaneously impassioned yet indifferent; emotive yet also strangely disconnected. His voice sounds richer than on previous LPs, as if weathered by time and tide from the constant late nights for which the band were once famous. He ventures into falsetto on several tracks (notably "Tidal Wave" and "My Desire"), which lends a counter-redeeming edge to the themes of fractured relationships and existential angst weaved throughout the soundscapes.

"My Desire" is the showstopper here. It might be the best - and most Interpol-esque - track that Banks and co have crafted in a decade: a sleek, swirling, gradually escalating monster that should have you somersaulting around your bedroom within 60 seconds of pressing play. Other highlights include the mix of wraithlike vocals and cascading rhythms of the ultra-absorbing "Anywhere", and the vortex of synths and reeling guitars on the eerily perfect "Tidal Wave".

So what are the issues? Lyrically, things can gravitate from the clunky but poignant ("Everything Is Wrong"’s “All we have is time, but my heart is going wrong”) to the disappointingly banal ("Breaker 1"’s “There is a slope like an appetite, it descends slowly”). Yet that’s always been the case with Interpol; 2002’s "Obstacle 1" might be one of the best indie-rock tracks ever written, but it’s marred by the woefully inept “her stories are boring and stuff, she’s always calling my bluff” lyric near the climax of the track. At times too, they come close to ripping themselves off: there’s more than an echo of 2007’s "Rest My Chemistry" in "Everything Is Wrong"; more than a whisper of 2004’s "Take You On A Cruise" in "Tidal Wave". They never devolve into out-and-out-mimicry or parody though, and in that sense it’s characteristic of Interpol’s greatest strength and greatest flaw – their complete inability, sometimes despite their best efforts, to sound like anyone else except themselves.

Ultimately El Pintor feels a like a blast of icy fresh air after a sticky, sweltering summer’s day. If this LP marks your first exposure to Interpol, you’ll likely see the messianic qualities that had the old-timers bedazzled the first time around. For the rest of us, it’s not quite the Second Coming, but it does feel bloody great to have these bastards back. B