When New York post-punk band Interpol burst onto the indie music scene with their masterpiece Turn on the Bright Lights in the wake of the latest form of New York music revivalism created by the frenzy over The Strokes, the band was lauded for representing something different. The band’s music, drawing from a different pool of post-punk bands than The Strokes and their ilk, namely Joy Division and New Order, was macabre and atmospheric, and most importantly, more genuine than the music of other New York bands. While The Strokes acted and sang like they were doing coke with supermodels in the basements of seedy nightclubs, Interpol didn’t need to sing about it; it was simply implied by the way they played and looked.
The band’s 2004 follow-up, Antics, was far from a sophomore slump, with many songs being released as singles, the album was all together more accessible for the average music-fan, but lacked the intensity and atmosphere of Bright Lights. Following the major UK chart success of Antics, and a steadily increasing fan base after consistent touring, Interpol left the label that released their first two albums, famed indie imprint Matador, and jumped ship to the evil empire of Capitol Records for their third album Our Love to Admire. The early prediction for Our Love to Admire was that the band was going to go way out on a limb, and go in an entirely different direction from Antics, not unlike the changes Joy Division went through in the short time between their first and second albums. Then came the deal with Captiol, and predictions shifted to the band making Antics 2, just banging out a couple of nice singles and calling it a day. Our Love to Admire is neither, as it finds the band expanding it’s scope with increased production, more instruments, and longer songs, and at the same time, it’s a calculated move towards the middle of the road, with the band going out on few limbs, and relying on their past success.
The album starts with “Pioneer to the Falls,” a song that was clearly made for the band’s festival gigs, and (cross your fingers) Madison Square Garden gigs, with the band sounding more like U2 than Joy Division, it is a slowly building arrangement, and has stadium-ready vocals. While still featuring the band’s signature dark elements, the song has an oboe in the intro, an instrument never meant to be played by anyone other than nerdy guys who can’t play the saxophone in high school band: it most certainly should not be on the third album by the coolest rock band on Earth. Tracks like lead single “The Heinrich Maneuver,” which crackles over a pounding syncopated drum riff played by the band’s best kept secret, drummer Sam Fogarino, “All Fired Up” which features an updated take on Television’s snaking dual guitar riffs, and “Mammoth,” recall the band’s best songs, but seem phoned in, lacking the intensity of their past singles.
Lead singer and songwriter Paul Banks, seems to have taken a firmer control over the band with Our Love to Admire, as the vocals take front and center, as opposed to being merely part of the musical composition on the band’s past releases. The only problem is that Banks’ lyrics are pretty out there, and when they were veiled by the music on past releases, the listener didn’t have to think about them at all, and if they did, couldn’t explain what he was really singing about. Now, with the singing up front, the lyrics become important. On “No I in Threesome,” Banks laments about how he is coaxed into a threesome with his girl and finds himself left out of the sexual experience. On “Rest My Chemistry,” Banks sings about doing coke, having sex in hallways and not being able to bring himself to have sex with a very young groupie. Now, interesting topics, but I swear, these are the same themes on R. Kelly’s latest album. Not exactly stuff you’d expect from a cool rock band. The main problem with the album, is the fact that the band seems to have become self aware, and are certain that they’re good enough to pull off three minute outros like on “Wrecking Ball,” or that they are good enough to add some orchestration on nearly all the tracks. The band has apparently forgotten why they were so great in the first place: they wrote three-and-a-half minute, terse post-punk songs that crackled with some unforeseen intensity that couldn’t be explained, it needed to be heard. Instead, they now want to write 7 minute orchestral pop songs that become tired after three minutes and two listens. What happened?
So with Our Love to Admire, Interpol reaches for more fans, expands their atmospherics, and fall flat on their face trying to be U2 instead of Joy Division. Now the band will be faced with the everlasting question of indie bands who jump to major labels: is it better to have complete creative control and the ability to experiment at an indie label and have a small group of devoted fans, or is it better to have increased distribution, have to deal with label politics and demands, and have a bunch of un-devoted fans?