Interpol put itself in an enviable predicament with its debut, 2002’s Turn On The Bright Lights. Loaded with a dark, sensual hybrid of indie rock and post-punk, the band exploded onto the music scene with a fully realized sound and aesthetic on its very first album. For each successive effort, the band edged ever so slightly away from what made that first one so great—layering existential dread with dance-friendly grooves—until the results had become a droning, miserablist impression of its former self with a few bright spots here and there that hinted at former glory (2010’s self-titled Interpol).
If the group hadn’t already pulled the mid-career/redefining self-titled LP move with its underwhelming album four years ago—which even went so far as to use an exploding 3-D version of the band’s logo as its cover art—now would be a good time for such a strategy. With El Pintor, its first album since the 2010 departure of founding bassist Carlos Dengler, Interpol is reborn—older, wiser, and learning to take each crisis in stride.
Opening track and lead single “All The Rage Back Home” promises this to be the Interpol album most people were expecting—contemplative, oblique lyrics with an atmospheric overload—for about 50 seconds. Then the drums kick in and it launches into a propulsive dance track with a message that sets the tone for the rest of the record, easily the band’s best, most cohesive and accessible effort since 2004’s Antics: “I keep falling, maybe half the time / It’s all the rage back home.”
The remaining members elected to continue as a trio rather than recruit a new bassist, leaving frontman Paul Banks to take over bass guitar duties in the studio, and he does an able job. But gone are those distinctive Dengler basslines that made songs like “Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down” so memorable. And it’s interesting the bass seems so much lower in the mix than on other Interpol efforts; some of this could be attributed to Banks’ particular style on the instrument. The band continues to credit “Interpol” as the album producer, and the previous album’s sound mixer, Alan Moulder (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Killers, Nine Inch Nails), has returned for El Pintor—an album title that serves double duty as both an anagram for “Interpol” and a Spanish translation of “the painter.”
Also gone is the indulgent, overly distorted noodling that dragged down that fourth album. Whatever the reason for these adjustments, they allow drummer Sam Fogarino’s riffs to really shine. His fills on “Anywhere” are propulsive and frenetic. And Daniel Kessler continues his penchant for energetically nimble yet melodic guitar lines that have come to be as much of a voice for the group as Banks’ baritone. The singer tries out a dreamy falsetto before giving way to a beltable hook on “My Blue Supreme,” a song practically begging for alone-in-the-car sing-along status. Even tracks that seem as if they will offer the standard Interpol despondency (“Everything Is Wrong”) acknowledge that just because it all sucks right now, that doesn’t mean it’ll always be thus (“Can we start over as agents of peace?”).
At a concise 10 tracks clocking in right at 40 minutes, there doesn’t seem to be much fat to trim on this record. Album-closer “Twice As Hard” brings back some of the signature Interpol sense of impending doom and menace, a compliment of the highest order, as it builds to an epic climax of distortion before fading away. But for the most part, Interpol’s turning over a new leaf with such lines as “I could go anywhere / So free… my place in the sun.” From these kings of the new class of gloom rock, that’s dangerously (and enticingly) close to optimism.