Review: Interpol / El Pintor

This is the longest we’ve had to wait for an Interpol record since their debut ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ was released in 2002. The band has returned from a 3 year long hiatus with the highly anticipated ‘El Pintor’ to be released on September 9th. Not all members have returned however; bassist Carlos Dengler has left the band to pursue other projects and left frontman Paul Banks to cover the bass duties in the studio. Dengler’s riffs, whilst relatively simple, had always been a driving force of the bands’ sound in the past so it was going to be interesting to see how they’ve progressed with Banks at the helm. Additionally, and more importantly, due to their last two albums being received generally less positively than their first two outings meant that ‘El Pintor’ was always going to be an important album for New Yorkers.

Interpol made quite an impression early on in their career with their modern take on a post punk sound, with clear cut melodies and Paul Banks’ baritone voice. They created a dark and sombre mood, whilst never being melodramatic and keeping vocal and musical melodies in check. They gave the impression that these stories were of deep personal significance.However, if you acknowledge the situation in a modern New York City where everyone is looking out for themselves,  we, as the audience must refrain from being too affected. Or so they seem to say.  There are of course the countless obvious comparisons to Joy Division and other post punk bands, but right on the cusp of the new millennium, and in a only just too recently post 9/11 world, Interpol found a way to modernise that sound.

The immediate impression this album makes is a lighter sounding tone, particularly at the start of the tracks than those familiar with Interpol may be expecting. This sense  was solidified throughout the first few listens of this album, and only a few standout tracks were able to break through that initially. From a wider context, this is not necessarily a negative reception of the sound, but from the standpoint of an old fan, the atmosphere that Interpol have so successfully created in the past has not carried through. They have always written songs in a very rigid way, with clear cut guitar melodies, and to hear flourishes on opening riffs does seem to weaken the sound of the songs. This sense  somewhat dissipates however as the songs progress to make way for a strong build and conclusion to songs such as ‘All the Rage Back Home’ and ‘My Desire’. These tracks, as well as ‘My Blue Supreme’ which showcases a rare break in Paul Banks’ signature baritone to a higher register, don’t start as confidently as they finish, or potentially as if they had featured on earlier works. The album reaches a turning point however at the halfway point with ‘Everything is Wrong’, a song that while lacking lyrical subtlety, does mark a distinct change in tone to the darker, more rigid sound discussed earlier, and the album seems more confident for it.

One of the initial standout tracks is ‘Breaker 1’, which begins with a simply strummed yet striking dissonant chord progression, before turning a soaring lyrical and melodic epic that is reminiscent of the song writing that Interpol made a name for themselves with initially. ‘El Pintor’ is Spanish for ‘the painter’, and to tie the title into the album itself, ‘Breaker 1’ ends with what seems to be a distorted military or at the very least authoritarian speech in (presumably) Spanish that is in keeping with the mildly military/dystopian feel of the main vocal hook, ‘Come back, Breaker 1’, playing behind the same humble chords from the intro ringing out. After this the album slips fluently into the drum driven ‘Ancient Ways’, with a subtle, understated guitar riff running behind the scenes. This is followed by ‘Tidal Wave’, which changes the tempo slightly with a light synth intro, before being joined by the drums and a driving bassline that best exemplifies from the album that Banks’ is a capable replcement for Carlos Dengler in terms of composition. The song ends similarly to how it begins with synth being played over a strong finish, before the 10th and final track, ‘Twice as Hard’ rounds out the album in a slow and reflective pace, which does give the end of the album a bit of breathing room after the previous 4 tracks built to a heavy conclusion.

As Banks’ voice slowly fades into the void following the conclusion of ‘Twice as Hard’ you might be left wondering what Interpol have been doing for the last four years before releasing ‘El Pintor’; because it sounds like just another Interpol album. In the 12 years it has been since their debut, the only change that can really be seen between this album and their earliest works is a slightly lighter tone, and a higher production value. One could think this would compliment the precise, clear cut post punk sound, but that initial rawness gave Interpol an edge that is missing from their later work, not excluding ‘El Pintor’. It’s not a bad album by any means, and would serve just as well as any of their more recent to introduce new fans to the band, but it will divide old fans between those who are just out for more of the same sound they enjoy from Interpol outing after outing, and those who have really just been chasing another ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ ever since it came out

El Pintor is out September 5th via [PIAS] Australia.