Monday, July 23, 2007

Headphones: Interpol's Our Love To Admire

One claim by critics in every Interpol review ever written is that they sound like Joy Division. I’d like to hope that if you're going to be a music critic, then you should have listened to Joy Division a few times, if not own their albums. And so I never heard the comparison, because being influenced by a band and sounding like them are two completely different things. Prince is heavily influenced by Joni Mitchell, but his psychedelic funk sounds nothing like her jazzy folk. You throw on any Interpol album, and you are sure to hear a heavy influence of late 70’s British post-punk music, and Joy Division is a band that falls under that umbrella. But to me, one of the most overriding elements of JD is the economy of the music. It’s stripped to its bare bones, trolling the dark underground; that’s kind of the point of it. Interpol is the exact opposite. Interpol is grand, shooting for the open skies, and their third full-length, Our Love To Admire, is their grandest, most baroque yet. I’d venture a guess that it has nothing to do with their new major label budget and more to do with their need to artistically expand.

One of the most noticeable things on the new album is the increased presence of keyboards, as well as orchestral arrangements; in some places, like the coda to “Wrecking Ball”, it allows the band to work with a softness that they have not yet explored. In other places, it accents a new expansiveness, as on the accordion-assisted opener “Pioneer To The Falls”, as well as the Morricone-flavored finale “The Lighthouse”. On previous albums, that UK influence has struck some as overwhelming to the bands natural personality; on OLTA however, Interpol wisely asserts their obvious growth, making the other noticeable change a shift of their musical focus to American Gothic, whether it be the Irish immigrant feel of “Falls” or the Old West on “Lighthouse”. Additionally, a track like “The Scale” digs into the deep sorrow of classic American Pop for its groove, at once recalling 50’s Rock & Roll and Girl Group ballads, but subverting the age-old ‘my baby’s gone’ narrative with a tale of a mysterious, sleeping son. Singer Paul Banks aims to soar where JD’s Ian Curtis never did, proclaiming “Under a molten sky, let the days collide; well, I made you and now I take you back.”

Further exploring the dark side of America, the most welcome influence that is buried in the DNA of OTLA is that of L.A. punks X. The first obvious nod in that direction is the subtle Billy Zoom twang in Daniel Kessler’s guitar, a new element to his already huge array of canyon echoes, watery reverb, and endless sustain. Also, Banks’ voice seems to slightly rise in register with each record, and here he’s not far off from X’s John Doe; he still projects with bluster, but he rarely broods like his UK predecessors. Both lyricists have always shot for the poetic side of songwriting, and Banks definitely likes to hit you with trivialities like “Life is like wine” or “You’re a daisy in my lazy eye”. He opens songs with lines like “I dream of you draped in wires and leaning on the brakes; as I leave you with restless liars and dealers on the take”, playing the straight man in his pressed suit to the countless smirking thrift store punks in ripped jeans. He’s been derided for overreaching in this way since Interpol’s classic debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, but I’ve always enjoyed the honesty and absurdist reality of it; guys who fancy themselves romantics do think like that sometimes. The perceived truth for both Banks and Doe is in the details. On the rehab anthem “Rest My Chemistry”, Banks greets you with “I haven’t slept in two days, I’ve bathed in nothing but sweat; and I’ve made hallways scenes for things to regret”, and your mind immediately wanders to the debauched conclusions to those allusions.

Banks never wallows in depression though, even as he chronicles his confusion and sadness; instead of turning his lyrical eye inward like countless Goths before him, Banks looks across the dinner table at his significant other and addresses their many problems together, their regrets and miscommunications. In that way he’s become one of our best reporters currently on the frontlines of the Battle of the Sexes, and he revels in the moments when either side feels it necessary to tell a lie or be brutally honest. He can put himself in the shoes of a misogynist, boasting that women have “insatiable needs” but “no self control”, then turn around and admit to the “destruction of man”, and “the corruption in my hand”. At one moment, he’s attempting to sway his lover with a winking “Maybe we need to give something else a try”, before insensitively pushing too far with “There’s no I in threesome”.

Banks’ bravado exhilarates the band, with the rhythm section of Carlos D and Sam Fogarino wringing as much pulsing bass and ornate percussive flourishes out of a simple 4-4 as possible. I often wonder if Fogarino is a drum teacher on the side, because he plays just complex enough without overshadowing the songs; he’s an expert in what to hit at what moment, and also when to hit nothing at all. The physical swing and momentum sets the band apart, whether at a molasses pace or a sprint. A song like first single “The Heinrich Maneuver”, one with the ‘familiar’ Interpol sound, works because of that momentum, Kessler and Carlos locking up through the chorus, Fogarino chopping it up behind them, as Banks intones “Today my heart swings” with complete conviction. Later, on "All Fired Up", when he bellows “I’ll take you on…I’ve got this soul, it's all fired up” with the band charging behind him, you know in your heart that Joy Division never threw down like this.

Raz's Rating
MUSIC: Interpol's Our Love To Admire

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