Interpol’s new album The Other Side of Make Believe is an engaging album for sure. A mosaic of their self-discovery as artists, rediscovering themselves, trying out new styles and breaking them apart again in an honest and truthful fashion. Occasionally resulting in a disjointed collection, or a desperate plea to turn back the clock.
Their debut Turn On The Bright Lights is one of the pinnacles of noughties indie-noir, while their second album Antics was a showcase of the band’s penchant for lyrical sophistication. Yet it was with their cinematic third album Our Love To Admire that Interpol showed their unfortunate tendency to let their artistic ambition override the music. Self-titled fourth album Interpol equally fell under the radar.
The bands trajectory could easily be hypothesised from this point on, with a slow decline till eventual dismissal. Well, one would think. Yet, even with the loss of a bassist, Carlos D, fifth and sixth album El Pintor and Marauder were luscious, hedonistic, and truly stunning. A return to form and saviours to the band’s reputation.
Therefore, as you could guess, the arrival of The Other Side of Make Believe was of interest to pseudo-musical scholars, like myself.
The album kicks off with the graceful and refined ‘Toni’, which seems to ruminate on the band’s rocky career path. Proving that when Interpol are on to a good thing, said thing is normally very, very good.
It certainly calls back to that which was successful in their debut, and that, which until recently, they had lost. They do not present a reinvention, more a revisioning. It talks of lessons learnt and albums lost for the indie stalwarts, as lead singer Paul Banks: “Still in shape, my methods refined”.
Other tracks equally capture that hypnotic giddiness of their debut. Particularly clear of the instrumentation of sinister ‘Greenwich’, the alarming ‘Renegade Hearts’ and twinkling ‘Go Easy (Palermo)’. It is these rhythmic oddities that give ‘The Other Side Of Make Believe’ it’s appeal.
This is all best proven by the hip-hop-post-punk concoction of ‘Passenger’. Guitarist Daniel Kessler constructs boggling and patterned riffs, which unfurl along the track, collecting lyrics to make a clean, sophisticated track. His incessant cyclical arpeggios groove along the song, while splattered dissonant notes add to its menacing feel. The finale of the track is dense and unsettling, with white noise stripping away the beauty of what came before.
It is in these moments of musical experimentation that Interpol can showcase what was not readily accepted by the ‘00s listeners. The sound is now neither dogmatic in sound nor shape, rather having a feel or paranoid revision and refinement. Yet they do let themselves move away from their post-punk shell, rather restricting their adjustments inside of it. It is this constant push and pull, growth and remain that makes the album falter.
It is clear the band wish to do more yet they, or a higher force, don’t allow themselves to.
In this sense the band do appear like a shadow of themselves. Almost ghostly. Such as on the unsettling ‘Something Changed’, where lyrics like “I wanna speak fast / And as we know, without substance…It becomes automatic / It becomes all but free,” have an uncanny resemblance to the band themselves. The song is sparse with the sudden hit of Sam Fogarino’s drums. And the uncanny vocal harmonies, paired with the desperation of the lyrics, become uncomfortable, rather than enjoyable.
Maybe this is due to the album being written remotely during lockdown, with Interpol’s three members scattered across various countries. It makes the album feel more measured – and therefore restrained.
Each member of the band have various adjustments to their style, obviously harnessed individually rather than as a collective. Banks’ vocals have shifted more towards that of Ian Curtis, like a downhearted warbler. Kessler bounces around in space, leaving canyons between him and Fogarino, their instrumental peculiarities diverging and parting from track to track.
Yet it must be said that Fogarino is an excitingly inventive drummer – a commodity lacking in contemporary indie rock. A talent which the band should centre themselves around.
Maybe the simplest analysis of The Other Side of Make Believe lies in the lyrics of the standout track “Passenger”, where Banks laments “Save me, I’m in my head”. An artist fault, which seems recurring in most Interpol works.
Their best work occurs when they loosen up a bit, and – to put it simply – chill.
photo credit: Ebru Yildiz