When Magnet, the most respectable major American music magazine [ahem, in the “paper” world – ed.] chose Interpol for their April/May cover, I scoffed at the newsstand. Someone nearby asked me if I was okay. I shook my head. However, with that surprising discovery I chose to take another look at their debut album, Turn On the Bright Lights. That’s despite the fact that I’d seen them perform four times already. And that I owned a (forgotten) promo. I was surprised, after a few more listens, to find musical merit—plenty of it.
Repress, for a moment, the prevalent notions that you have of the band Interpol. Those ideas that they are fashion-obsessed musicians that wear their egos on well-tailored sleeves are correct. The ideas that they are a talentless Joy Division Redux with little musicality and less originality are not. The size of their collective ego is duly correspondent with the quality of the music that they create. Put aside your lingering doubts and give a listen to their album’s simplest song, musically-speaking. “NYC” is the lowest point that the band manages to reach in terms of mood (and likely spawned the countless comparisons to Joy Division). This track, though musically constricted, is the most indicative of Interpol’s artistic potential, when contrasted with the rest of the album. It radiates the type of synergy that comes along only when the members of the band choose to step back appropriately and highlight what is most important to the song, rather than themselves. In this case, it is the lyrics, secondarily the delivery of the vocals.
This is lead-singer Paul Banks at his most somber, yet the track is anything but monotonous or lethargic. No hints of imminent suicide are to be found. His voice, even in a studio recording is downright emotive, making “NYC” an unmistakable anthem of what can only be a male depression. The song is necessarily simple. From the other tracks, one would know that the guitarist (Dan Kessler), bassist (Carlos Dengler), and drummer (Sam Fogarino) have much more to offer. What makes this track—and ultimately, the album—work is that they leave the preacher at the pulpit to do his thing, supportive of his monologue.
Ultimately, I have more listening to do, as do the others who scoffed with me at that cover. Most will find something to appreciate about this band if they listen, be it Carlos Dengler’s proof that the bass has a place in rock or whatever else. It’s not as hard to hear as I had originally made it.