The early signs for Interpol’s fourth album, referred to all and sundry as #4 were promising: Paul Banks’ solo project under the moniker Julian Plenti proved to be a surprise highlight of 2009 and both the long-lead download/video (“Lights”) and second more typical Interpol-esque single (“Barricade) showed great promise. Then Carlos Dengler, whose post-punk bass lines and goth Crispin Clover look-a-like presence were seemingly an integral part of the Interpol package announced his departure, apparently bored with the playing the instrument that made him famous. Next was the “my first 3D photoshop” design of the cover art which further shook our faith in the project and had us asking whether the decision to go back to Matador after a stint on a major and self produce was wise. After listening to #4 many times over we’re not sure, not sure at all.
Frontloaded with the cream #4 begins with “Success” an aptly labeled song, economical in length but not hooks, which has a puzzled Banks asking “Dreams of long life/What safety can you find?”. “Memory Serves” and “Summer Well” benefit from that classic Interpol throbbing rhythm section with the latter combining piano with delicate guitar both courtesy of Daniel Kessler. They pale in comparison with “Lights” however, surely one of the finest songs Interpol have ever committed to tape. It’s a song made for the listener to turn off the lights, max out the stereo and be enveloped by Kessler’s trademark reverb lead and Paul Banks’ moral dilemmas. Even the high concept Charlie White directed video, by turns erotic and ridiculous, can’t diminish its power.
“Barricade” is ironically prophetic, segregating the promising first half of the album with its distended second. Telegraphing their intent with their titles, tracks such as “Always Malaise (The Man I Am)”, “All of the Ways” and “The Undoing” are turgid five minutes whines that feel closer to double that in length. They’re songs built around a repetitious two note piano or guitar riff with gratuitous synths and strings that forget the tenets of the best Interpol songs – Dengler’s bass, intersecting guitars, intonations in Banks’ baritone and some connection with the listener. The only emotion these latter songs elicit is profound boredom. There are moments of hope; Sam Forgina can’t help but be an engaging drummer and there’s slivers of lyrical brilliance (“Try It On” in particular, whose “This twee neophyte” made me do a double take) but it’s like diving for pearls with a blacked out face-mask.
Our Love to Admire may’ve split fans of …Bright Lights and Antics but I’d rather listen to it a hundred times over than the second half of #4 again. Interpol will atone for their wrongdoings here, clad in black, surrounded by smoke and crimson lights on arena and festival stages for the next eighteen months where they can cherry pick the best songs, but album #5 will need to have much more consistent quality control for the band to be remembered by anymore than “Oh great band, especially the first two albums. What happened to them?”.