The mod suit is required rock 'n' roll packaging this year. Things could be worse: Mod suits make a svelte man look hot, no question about it. Maybe it's all the conditioning we've had from watching classic British Invasion footage, for it seems that all the retro suit needed was some world-class hype, plus willing chaps with guitars, and the girls would once again clutch their heads and scream. Now the suit has a new champion: NYC's latest export, Interpol. All the twitter says they're the band who want to give that look some Eighties pop gloom.
The next Joy Division with skinny ties? In theory, that sounds hot, too. And depressing, which is perfect for a band that loves to brood on its new release Turn on the Bright Lights (Matador). The songs here sound like a parade of goth's dancier kin--how tired Interpol must be to hear their music compared to that of Eighties Manchester bands and their ilk. Then again, no one told Interpol that they had to lift the drumbeat from the Cure's "Why Can't I Be You?" and graft it onto their own "Say Hello to the Angels"--or they'd be condemned to cover the Knack for all eternity if they declined. Nor did anyone force Interpol's lead singer, Paul Banks, to mimic the morbidly beautiful ooze of a voice that belonged to Ian Curtis.
Interpol may be derivative, but they derive well. The band's strength is in its simple and insistent guitar, delayed and drenched in reverb; the smooth, funky basslines; and, of course, the sadly troubled vocals. The songs stand as well-executed medleys of Reagan-era faves. You hear Joy Division's "Warsaw" echoed in Interpol's rocking "Roland." And no doubt someone out there is sighing in appreciation for how "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down" sounds coated in the Psychedelic Furs. What Turn on the Bright Lights needs, though, is a raw wound behind its moan. The songs are a bit too slick, missing the tension and grit that would make wallowing in agony the good time that it is.
Another gripe: For the most part, the lyrics here are neither meaningful nor forgivably oblique. For instance, during the song "Obstacle 2," who wants to figure out the meaning of phrases like "Friends don't waste wine/When there's words to sell"? Maybe Banks sold so many words that he doesn't have enough left to form a clear sentence? To his credit, his voice is rocking and dreamy throughout, especially on the track "PDA." But he too often uses it to offer us something as silly as "We have 200 couches where you can sleep tonight." Wha? Is he trying to ask some girl to stay over, only to tell her she can sleep just about anywhere other than with him? You would almost wish for the simplicity of "Love Will Tear Us Apart"--though that raises the originality problem again.
Granted, this is all pointless quibbling as Interpol gets ready to do with gloom pop what a group of Swedes did with their update of the Kinks: bank. Fair enough. At least Interpol's genre is worthy of a comeback, if for no other reason than to finally break Ian Curtis into pop radio. That would be a coup in itself.