Interpol’s endless string of difficult albums

The so-called ‘difficult second album’ is one of the biggest cliches in rock — but Interpol’s LPs have been getting ever more difficult since they released their debut in 2002.

Turn On the Bright Lights was an era-defining record that nudges way ahead of The Strokes, The White stripes, The Libertines and any other over-hyped guitar albums of the early noughties, and it still hangs heavy over the New Yorkers.

In fairness, it’s not such a bad problem to have — many bands dine out for life on one iconic album or even the odd song. But six albums in, the constant comparisons to their debut must grate.

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The ironically-titled Turn On the Bright Lights always felt a lot grander than the other big rock albums of the era, with its nocturnal fog, icy atmospherics and nods to the darker corners of post-punk — with singer Paul Banks’ uncanny Ian Curtis affectations hard to ignore. The album appeared in many end-of-year lists, topping Pitchfork’s best of 2002.

The second album didn’t turn out as difficult as the rest. Antics was also a big indie hitter in 2004, going brighter than before, without making any concessions to fans of their bleak arrangements. And some 14 years later, lead single Slow Hands is the band’s live encore.

Such is the shadow of Bright Lights, that after the polarising Our Love To Admire, critics started talking about “return to form” on later albums Interpol and Pintor — usually reserved for bands decades into their career.

The band managed to finally perform an exorcism of sorts with the 15th anniversary tour last year — playing the album in sequence, with a collective catharsis for older fans who might’ve tailed off.

One glaring omission was founding bass player Carlos Dengler who left in 2010 amid classic “creative differences”. In an open letter-type essay for n+1 he wrote that he was in 25 per cent of the album’s DNA, and he found it odd that he hadn’t been asked to go on tour. “There’s nothing like a round number to kick up a thousand anguished “what ifs.” I can hear them buzzing around in my head, like a horde of wasps,” he said. Even now, it still looks weird seeing Interpol as a trio.

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Early days (Carlos D far right)

Coming in the middle of recording their sixth album Marauder, the band have since said it helped clear the decks. With a lighter touch aided by producer Dave Fridmann, it feels like a real attempt to move on — with tracks like The Rover and If You Really Love Nothing slithering along on obvious hooks rather than moping in corners. The ‘live’ feel also gives the songs more urgency that’s sure to help on the road.

Still, while even U2 took the risk of dropping the likes of Where the Streets Have No Name and With or Without You from the current tour after the Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour last year, a quick glance at Interpol’s recent 16-song setlist show six songs from Bright Lights and four songs from Antics. Maybe they’re happy enough to keep in the shadows after all — and nobody’ll be complaining on this tour.

  • Interpol play the Olympia in Dublin on Sunday (18th), Monday and Tuesday