All the Rage Back Home

Review: Interpol – El Pintor

For the first time in Interpol’s career, we can honestly say that their newest album is better than their previous work.  While we argued last week that Interpol’s “decline” was not nearly as sharp as some may contend, the band still had issues matching the success of their previous works.  The band reached its nadir with Interpol, an album that while striving to push their music into new directions suffered from a clear lack of inspiration, with many songs seemingly the aural manifestation of creative gears spinning without any tangible result.  After some time off, the band has regrouped and seemingly found its mojo once again, as for the first time since Antics Interpol seems to be having at least a bit of fun making music again.

The title El Pintor goes beyond being simply an example of clever wordplay by being an anagram of the band’s name and previous album, but also serves as a signal of the creative reshuffling that went on behind the scenes.  Even dipping into Spanish was a nice touch, considering how the previous album ended with “The Undoing” and its verse in Spanish, providing an additional connective tissue with this creative reinvention.  There were some interesting superficial touches (the cover art adds a bit of blue to the traditional red-and-black Interpol color scheme, the band published a lyric booklet for the first time with the album) that mirrored some of the internal structural changes the band underwent in recording the album.  With Carlos D’s departure once Interpol was completed, the band decided that instead of searching for a new bassist that they’d power through as a three-piece, with Paul Banks laying down the bass in the studio (for the record, the band hired a touring bassist, so we won’t be seeing Paul trying to figure out how to play old songs on the bass and sing at the same time).  Considering the importance of bass to the Interpol sound, fans were rightly concerned; the good news is that Banks proves himself a more than capable replacement on El Pintor.  There aren’t any show-stopping riffs like in “Obstacle 1” or “The New”, but Banks often provides a great groove and a quality counterpoint to the melody in songs like “Anywhere” and “Tidal Wave”.

Traditionally, Interpol albums have begun with a stately, deliberate opener, and for the first 50 seconds, “All The Rage Back Home” seems to follow that pattern, before it pulls a left turn and abruptly shifts into a full-blown rocker.  I initially expressed skepticism when the song was first released, mainly for a lead-guitar line that seemed out of place, but the song has grown on me since then and I’ve fallen under its spell and now eagerly anticipate the hell that will break loose when its performed live.  Instead, I should have paid attention to more promising aspects of the song, like Sam Fogarino’s subtle touches, like his hits on the crown of the ride cymbal (noticeable around the 3 minute mark) or his work on the toms to help provide some added power to the final chorus.  Fogarino has long been the secret weapon in Interpol’s arsenal, and for the first time in years the band has figured out how to take advantage of his gifts.  Whereas the group had trouble with avoiding turning their start-stop rhythmic songs into slogs, Fogarino’s nifty hi-hat work on “My Blue Supreme” helps push the song forward and keep the listener’s attention, and his part in “Ancient Ways” is some of his liveliest playing in years.

There just seems to be a spark that runs through El Pintor, which helps give it a consistency that the band has lacked since Antics.  The album may not have peaks as high as those on Our Love To Admire, but it doesn’t have any out-and-out duds either.  El Pintor is a record that’s also worth exploring in a variety of settings–I’ve picked up several different nuances listening to the album on disc, on the computer, and through headphones, and in each instance the album as a whole has sounded excellent (which is reassuring, considering that the initial stream that I heard compressed the music so much that it was difficult to determine if dynamic contrast existed at all on the record).  Some critics have claimed that El Pintor is an attempt to recapture Interpol’s earlier sound, but I would argue that it’s more of a reinterpretation of their more recent direction.  There’s nothing that immediately recalls Turn on the Bright Lights or Antics directly, but this album seems to be a natural progression from those records than Our Love To Admire and Interpol were in hindsight.  There is the movement towards incorporating more strings and keyboards (courtesy of former Secret Machines member Brandon Curtis) that marked their recent output, though their not at the forefront of their songs; Daniel Kessler’s guitar once again is prominently featured, but he’s armed with better riffs this time and a careful sense of restraint.  This helps the songs breathe, and not make it seem like everything has to live or die based purely on the quality of Kessler’s guitar parts.  Once again, just as in their best work, the unit is functioning more like a “band” once again with each member fulfilling their role.

The main takeaway for fans is that the band isn’t rehashing tired old ideas, and most importantly, El Pintor signals for the first time in years that there is still a bright future ahead for Interpol.

Over the Weekend (July 14 Edition)

In contrast to the relative paucity of links from Friday, we’ve got an avalanche of videos and news this week.  So here we go!

The music world lost another giant this weekend, as Tommy Ramone passed away due to complications from bile duct cancer.  Tommy was a vital part of the Ramones, anchoring their back-to-basics but give-them-hell attitude from behind the drumkit, but he also was an early producer for the band and was the main creative force behind many of the band’s most-loved songs, including “Blitzkrieg Bop”.  After he left the Ramones, he continued making his mark, including producing one of the greatest albums of all time, Tim by The Replacements.  Now is as good as a time as any to listen to that album along with any and all Ramones albums you may have, and be sure to read this great write-up by Jon Wurster in SPIN.

Interpol released their “first” official video from El Pintor, for the propulsive and upbeat “All The Rage Back Home”.  I put “first” in quotations, because that ignores the live video for “Anywhere” that previously was released, but is also understandable because at least this is a studio recording.

Here are some initial thoughts on the song: 1) I love it when Interpol goes for speed, and it works even better in contrast to the slow open; 2) The lead guitar in the verses, while a continuation of the first slow part, clash way too much with the chords once the song gets into gear; it’s a lot like when I was in jazz band in high school, and the director would point to me suddenly and go “you have the next 16 bars”–a lot of noodling on the upper part of the neck that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever; 3) In the video they have Paul playing bass, emphasizing that as a recording unit they’re a three-piece, but live they will have a more traditional lineup with Paul on second guitar; overall, Paul acquits himself quite well, though I hope on other songs he attempts to replace Carlos D’s ability to use space and off-beat rhythms and lines that were such a key part of the early Interpol sound.  In related news, Interpol announced today the details of their fall tour, with tickets for most shows going on sale on Friday.

Speaking of tours, the recently reunited Slowdive (and subject of one of the first pieces on our site) have announced that they’re going beyond an initial run of festivals and are going on a full-fledged tour.  I can’t wait to see them in November, as that month seems to be shaping up to be “Reunion Month” with Death From Above 1979 stopping by the Northwest a couple of weeks later.

We’ve mentioned before how much we’ve loved Hamilton Leithauser’s solo debut, and we’re glad to see that he’s released another music video, this time for “I Don’t Need Anyone”.  This one is pretty funny, and has a nice dark edge to it that’s perfect for a Monday.

Continuing with a theme of funny videos, Metallica cut a humorous promo for Sportscenter, fitting in with the latter’s long run of great ads.  In this spot, the band is looking for something to do now that Mariano Rivera has retired and so they no longer have to play “Enter Sandman” for his entrance music.

As there is the “Rule of 3’s” in comedy, so it is with funny music videos, as Weird Al released a video for his parody of Pharrell’s “Happy”, with the clever “Tacky”.  Yankovic gets some famous friends in on the fun, and those who have tired of hearing the original should welcome it. (Warning: Video autoplays)

And for your last video, if you need to come down a bit, there’s The National doing an interview over on Pitchfork that should help.

After some rumblings before, it’s now official that Radiohead will be heading to the studio to record their latest album in September, according to Billboard who listened in on a BBC radio interview.  As always, it will be interesting to see just what direction the band will take this time around.