Too much formula tinkering wouldn't have served icy-cool New York band Interpol well for its second album: It's taken two years for the dark, fantastic grandiosity of Turn On The Bright Lights to sink into the pop consciousness, and any sort of hard stylistic turn with Antics could and probably would stymie that momentum. The alternative, to borrow an election-year phrase, is to stay the course, and that's exactly what Interpol does. But just because Antics draws from the same well doesn't condemn it to a shamed life as Turn On The Bright Lights II. More of the same, when following an album so affecting and lofty, doesn't have to be monochromatic or dull.
Like a photocopy with subtly smudged character differences, Antics retains Interpol's core, busying itself with tweaks in mood and sound rather than any sort of overhaul. Brighter and more uptempo than its predecessor, it strikes a balance between downcast swirls and skip-stepping post-punk. If Joy Division—a constant and fair comparison—had access to Zoloft and an octave-higher singer, it might have crafted the alternately dirgey and uplifting "C'Mere" or the sneaky, snaky "Length Of Love." Those are offset perfectly by some stunning songs that aim more for shoe-moving than shoe-gazing: The first single, "Slow Hands," and the unstoppable "Evil" both pull disco basslines out of context and stretch them into bold, though not necessarily new, forms.
Perfectly paced and smartly brief at just over 40 minutes, Antics never resorts to padding and rarely wastes a second: The album-opener, "Next Exit," couldn't provide a bigger reeling hook, and though Interpol never strays far from being Interpol after that, it makes enough subtle parallel moves to secure its place as an essential album for 2004 and beyond. It may be predictable, but if predictable means rock-solid and mostly magnificent, why bother asking for more?