Do you like music that makes you feel like you've completely disassociated from your body? Do you connect most with songs that have completely cryptic lyrics? Are you a fan of the whole brooding black-and-white rockstar aesthetic? Then Interpol is the band for you!
If you've visited my site before, there's a solid chance you've picked up that I adore the post-grunge garage rock revival with all my heart. Alongside The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, and so many more, Interpol helped reunite New York in music once again.
Originally formed in 1997, Interpol's initial lineup consisted of Sam Fogarino, Paul Banks, Carlos Dengler, and Daniel Kessler (that's also the order in which they stand in the above picture from left to right). According to Banks, he always had the dream of being a rockstar and was laughed at and disregarded for that thought time and time again. The release of 2002's "Turn On the Bright Lights" was what did end up catapulting the band into stardom.
Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
The album that put Interpol on the map, Turn on the Bright Lights, sounds like walking down the street throughout the alleyways of a big city in the middle of the night. Hands in pockets Bob Dylan style, vision blurry, drowsy weather, it's an experience. I've been describing this album, and Interpol in general, like this: They create a room, an empty space. You sit there with nothing around you. The further you get into this album, the larger the room grows, you are alone, but you are experiencing everything.
There is a prevalent sense of melancholy throughout the whole album. On the first listen, maybe in your head you're sitting in front of a massive screen watching your life play out. Every mistake, every growing pain, every victory, everything you've ever felt. A friend of mine also compared it to sitting in the bottom of a pool, and I think that's a perfect way to describe it. Every situation you could be in to feel alone and empty is exactly how this album comes across. Allow "Untitled" to lull you into a state of emptiness, "Obstacle 1" will bring you back into your mind a bit and allow you to gather your thoughts, and when "NYC" begins, you'll be able to see that empty room form around you. Close your eyes and feel.
"I'm sick of spending these lonely nights training myself not to care."
Interpol have always been accused of being pretentious douchebags, and maybe they are, but here's why it doesn't matter to me: They created one of the greatest albums of all time. I have never felt more depth or emotion from a piece of work in my whole life, even more so than The Strokes, who I often say I enjoy more than Interpol. I guess it just depends on the day.
The next song that's always stood out to me is "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down". While the meaning of the song is questionable, the way it's not only delivered vocally, but lyrically, is one of their best. There's a veil of mystery around it,"When she walks down the street, she knows there's people watching / the building fronts are just fronts to hide the people watching her." Who is this Stella? We don't know, but we can assume what she's done for the band... The bass line, the drums, the echoey guitars, and Paul's honest, haunting voice give you an experience, a peek into their world if you will.
I wrote about this briefly in my essay "New York Cares, a Micro-Genre Analysis" which you can find here, but I'd argue that the band is most known for the cryptic lyrics. "Stella" is just one example of that, but I want to look at "Roland". Here's an excerpt from the song:
"My best friend's a butcher, he has sixteen knives / He carries them all over the town, at least he tries / Oh look it stopped snowing / My best friend's from Poland and oh he has a beard / But they caught him with his case in a public place, that is what we had feared / He severed segments and secretly liked that/ He always took the time to speak with me I liked him for that."
There's a lot to unpack here, a lot of different ways to interpret this. Is this butcher a murderer? Is he literally just a butcher? Is the butcher actually symbolizing an emotion? Is the butcher the voice in someone's head? My favorite bit from these lyrics is the line "Oh look it stopped snowing" in the middle of a verse. It's like Paul is delivering a story and he glances out the window to see the snow is no longer falling. He ends this crazy sentiment by reflecting on the fact that this butcher always took time to speak with him, even though he'd just stated that the butcher secretly enjoyed severing something (Animals? humans? Another metaphor?) There is so much like this to look into from this album. Every song has its own story, some of which have meanings that are easy to grasp, and others that hurt your brain to think about for more than a few minutes. I could spend forever analyzing their lyrics, but unfortunately, I don't have forever.
I also want to discusss the impact of Carlos Dengler on this record. I'll go into deeper detail as to why he left the band a little later on, but for now, I think it's appropriate to acknowledge that Turn On The Bright Lights would not be what it is without him. Bass is an instrument that often gets overlooked in a band, although its role is crucial to the construction of a song. A lot of the time, bass is there literally just to enhance the bass levels in a track, not to fill it. Dengler rejected that idea. His bass parts were some of the strongest parts of their songs. It adds dimension and pulls each track together with another layer that enhances the experience, so give thought to his parts when you hear them.
Turn on the Bright Lights is an album that I will always come back to in the times that I need to feel everything and nothing at all simultaneously. It is the album I turn on driving down I-5 in the middle of the night. It's the one I reach for when there's a lightning storm, when it's pouring, when I've just gotten horrible news. It means everything to me.
Antics, Interpol's second album, had a similar effect on the world. In my experience, Interpol fans are either a Turn on the Bright Lights person or an Antics person, and they feel very strongly towards one or the other. This album was understood to never top what Turn on the Bright Lights was, it could never outdo it, yet Antics brings something new. Not necessarily a new sound, but a new energy for Interpol. With a lot of sophomore releases, you can feel the pressure that was put on the band to live up to their first work. That's not the case with Interpol. There is no pressure, there is no caving to what the critics predicted, Antics is just simply the second album from Interpol, and I love that a lot. While Turn on the Bright Lights will always be my favorite, Antics is in no way worse than it, it's just there. And sometimes that's the best thing a second album can be.
Antics was actually leaked to the public before it's release, giving people a small idea of what to expect. The ways in which it's different for me make sense. It's more tender and loving, yet also more danceable, there's not as much feeling, this album is more deep background music in the best way possible, but still with the signature Interpol touch. The instruments seem to blend together more, giving a bigger space for Paul's vocals to shine. The moodiest song to me, and also my favorite on the album, is "A Time To Be So Small". This is the last track on the ten song work. Again with the sea and nautical themes we first heard in "Stella Was a Diver...", Interpol interlaces what's happening in real life with metaphors that are difficult to digest, yet oh-so-intriguing.
"We saw you from the urchin's side from under the boat / We saw you making knots, we saw you get the rope / The boy appearing on the deck, you're making it lurch / The bubble of your interest's ready to burst."
Paul did comment on the meaning of this song, saying "It’s a family relationship song. The observers, who are narrating, are aquatic creatures under a boat watching this unfolding drama between father and son. Possibly the first song ever to be written from the point of view of a crustacean." Knowing that's what all of this intricate lyricism is about really brings me back to how much I love Interpol. Paul is right, have you ever heard a song written from the perspective of a crustacean? Probably not. Daniel's work on the guitar brings this haunting and enigmatic vibe, something I don't think the song would be as powerful without.
"Evil" is arguably the most well-known song from Antics, and for good reason. Opening solely with Carlos' bass line, it sets the tone for the rest of the song. There's something unique about each of their songs, and this is no exception from that. Similar to much of the Strokes' discography, Interpol begins to instill the upbeat track/depressing lyrics combo that tends to wipe me out every time. It's just my favorite! You want to dance and sing along, but what is it that you're actually singing?
"Rosemary, heaven restores you in life / You're coming with me / Through the aging, the fearing, the strife / It's the smiling on the package / It's the faces in the sand / It's the thought that moves you upwards, embracing me with two hands / Right will take you places / Yeah, maybe to the beach / When your friends, they do come crying / Tell them now your pleasure's set upon slow release."
Again, Paul, what does this mean???? It's so beautiful, so well crafted, but whaaaaat doooooes ittttt meeeeeeannn????? I'd love more than anything for him to sit down with me and explain every single song in their discography. I don't think that will ever happen but a girl can dream. Antics stays pretty consistent with these themes, it's a wonderful album for any mood. Happy? Depressed? Numb? Interpol's got your back once again.
Here's my favorite live performance of "Evil":
I'm not going to go in depth about their other albums because, in all honesty, I don't feel that I connected with them as deeply as Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics. There's definitely specific tracks that I love, but the works as a whole didn't click with me as much as the others. The stars of Our Love To Admire (2007) are "Pioneer To the Falls", "No I In Threesome", and "Rest My Chemistry". "Rest My Chemistry" is one of my favorite songs of all time. Although it's pretty obviously about cocaine, the instrumentals and the way it's delivered is one of the best in their whole discography. It's summer, windows rolled down, sunset, warm breeze, Dutch Bros in the cup holder, best friend in the car. That is what that song means to me. It's a shame the rest of the album isn't as sensational as that one.
Self titled (2010) is note-worthy as well because it's the band's first album without bassist Carlos Dengler. He left the band to find himself outside of the world of rock 'n roll, and they never replaced him, just had people play his parts live and bass was composed by the rest of the band. From what I've read about his departure he really was just sick of the music industry, touring, and the overall pressure that comes with being a musician. I was never a huge fan of him, though. He always came off conceited and egotistical to me, but his talent on the bass was grieved thoroughly by Interpol fans. The bass lines were never bad after him, but those three albums were unique in sound because of what he brought. My favorite tracks from this album are "Memory Serves", "Barricade", "Summer Well", and "Always Malaise (The Man I Am)." "Barricade" is such a fun song to enjoy with other people, to scream in the car or dance to in the middle of the night. It's such a standout, but so is "Memory Serves". The lyrics are delivered perfectly and always make me sway with admiration, and shoutout to Sam for the INCREDIBLE drums on that track.
The last album I'm going to briefly mention is El Pintor (2014). In my opinion, this is Interpol's last note-worthy album. The most recent two have had no impression on me whatsoever. I love El Pintor because it feels very coming of age. It also houses some of my favorite guitar riffs and sounds from their whole discography. With tracks like "All the Rage Back Home", "Anywhere", and "Same Town, New Story", it feels like a fresh start in a different place, yet the same emotions and ideas are still stuck there. I also adore "My Blue Supreme" and "My Desire". And actually, out of the three albums I just mentioned, I think this is my favorite as a whole. Still doesn't live up to the first two albums, but it's perfect in it's own way.
As I mentioned, their two most recent albums don't mean a whole lot to me so I'm not going to talk about them. Over the past two years, Interpol has become a very significant band in my life and has been there through a lot of growing up, kind of in the same way The Strokes have, just with a different sound. I will always be so grateful for Turn on the Bright Lights, what an album that is. To be able to appreciate it is to be able feel deeply. Take these albums and I guarantee you'll discover a new part of yourself.