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Interpol - Our Love to Admire Print E-mail
Monday, 01 October 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    5
sound:    7
released:    2007
label:    Capitol
reviewer:    Matt Fink

ImageOne of the great examples of a band whose early success raised expectations to impossible heights, Interpol hardly seem like the same band who created their breakthrough Turn On the Bright Lights in 2002. The irony, of course, is that they were so much the same band that made that album that 2004’s Antics suffered in comparison, the classic case of a group whose mastery of one brilliant shade of gray limited the options of what they could get away with in the near feature. The riffs were still jagged, the vocals were still brooding, but for a band who launched an army of bands searching through Gang of Four and Joy Division albums for clues to Interpol’s formula, it seemed like little more than the prelude to something else that must be lurking on the horizon. Now on a major label (whatever that meant), it couldn’t be too much like what they’d already done and couldn’t be so different that it would alienate their old fans. Our Love to Admire is their attempt to do wiggle out of that classic double bind.

Having made the most out of a limited palette of textures and emotions, Interpol have toiled within a smaller stylistic cage than most of their contemporaries. As such, the New York quartet takes the easiest evolutionary route, choosing to deepen and embolden the sounds that have served them so well to this point with the increased inclusion of keyboards and synthesizer textures. The chilly atmosphere remains, as does the dour mood and Daniel Kessler’s probing guitar lines. While they were never a particularly jaunty bunch, this version of Interpol appears to equate maturity with allowing less emotional leakage and adding more imposing layers to their arrangements, with song structures that spiral and evolve with a sense of brooding deliberation and a pronounced lack of urgency. For a band that once twitched with a nervous and edgy energy, this version of Interpol simply sounds bored.
While Kessler still founds nearly every track on a good lead guitar hook, very few songs build anything interesting on that foundation, with a series of blandly meandering tracks forming a dispassionate blur of similar tracks. Over and over, a good line or smart hook is beaten into submission by being repeated to the point of exhaustion, from the go-nowhere groove that wastes Banks’ tangled patchwork of drugs and lust in “Rest My Chemistry” to the bells and xylophone anticlimax that resolves the five minutes of angelically muffled acoustic guitar in “The Lighthouse.” Time and again, these songs seem to stop just short of arriving at a new and interesting end point.

Slight shifts in instrumentation aside, vocalist Paul Banks remains a cleverly down turned tunesmith, his penchant for understated drama fully intact. Arguably among his most perfectly layered opuses, the darkly shuffling “Pioneer to the Falls” unravels from a stoic intro of mewing electric guitar picking and cascading piano lines through humming oboe and groaning towers of rumbling drums, with Banks’ dewy Michael Stipe-ish vocals adding a weary urgency through the whistling ether. At once, it’s the perfect Interpol epic, mixing equal doses of the old and new into a gloriously vivid epic. Similarly, “The Heinrich Maneuver” is one of the few moments where the band sounds as if they are actually enjoying themselves, with a twitchy surf guitar line and washes of ghostly keyboards leading to the album’s most immediate chorus. Though they are few, these moments give hope that Interpol’s great reinvention might yet be ahead.

That said, Our Love to Admire ends up sputtering through an unfortunate number of middling and otherwise uninspired tracks. Despite its great title, “No I in Threesome” gets bogged down in mid-tempo rhythms and tentative guitars that seem like only placeholders for an underdeveloped hook. Just as frustrating, given that it’s a genuinely confrontational moment, “Mammoth” is long on snarling attitude but comparably short on memorable musical moments, even with a few well-placed and unexpected shifts in tempo. Though these songs spend more time developing musical motifs and building entryways to melodic side-roads, they never actually, definitively arrive anywhere, trailing off mid-sentence without saying anything.

Ultimately, regardless of their valiant attempt to take a half step forward, it’s not quite enough to make up for the album’s lesser moments. No doubt, it is their most eclectic release musically, but the tentative performances fail to push the songs far enough to make those advancements seem like anything more than the obvious decision for a band that couldn’t survive repeating themselves. Most disappointing, they simply sound disinterested and de-clawed, with little of the danger or ominous energy that once seemed ingrained in every track. No doubt they had every reason to want to make an album that was equal parts experimental audacity and pop accessibility, but with Our Love to Admire they’ve ended up with neither.

Like the previous two Interpol full-length releases, Our Love to Admire favors drab textures and lots of dry, open space. Here, however, those textures are brighter and fuller than before and end up sounding tamer and less interesting as a result. Even so, the album’s clean sound allows for deep listening, and good equipment might very well unearth previously unappreciated elements in the mix.

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