New York Cares: Interpol’s ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’


It’s an unnerving realisation for any alternative music fan that followed the New York garage rock revival scene, incorporating artists such as The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the early noughties, to discover that Interpol, a band who channelled the darker side of the city in the aftermath of 9/11, released their first material upon the world’s airwaves a full decade ago, becoming a debatably greater influence on future bands than any of the previously mentioned rough and ready, cool chic image that rendered those bands only temporary media darlings.

There are few albums which merit a reissue a mere ten years after conception, with so little time having passed in order to discern true iconic status, but Interpol’s debut album ‘Turn On The Bright Lights‘ is one such a record. Despite peaking amongst the lower end of the US Billboard and UK Album charts upon its original release in August 2002, the album garnered adoring critical reception, and a devout fanbase was formed thereafter. The anniversary edition, with a revised release date of December 3rd, contains a remastered version of the original album, which could be construed as a minor, necessary element of a modern day reissue, but from the first piercingly eerie harmonized chord progressions and vibrato laden lead notes on opener ‘Untitled’, it is clear the remaster is not merely a limited gloss over of the previous tracks, but adds an amplified intensity and clarity that significantly improves the overall enjoyment of the record.

The pounding snare drum belonging to Sam Fogarino, and now departed Carlos Dengler’s staccato bass that drives the vital percussive ingredients of a distinctively atmospheric sound in the vein of 80’s iconic gloom post-punkers Joy Division is given appropriately polished weight alongside lead vocalist and guitarist Paul Banks’ baritone singing delivery. It is prudent to note that this added touch up doesn’t detract in any way from a sound which was seen as a grainy, brutally honest account of New York life at the time when many musicians around them were trying their best to put a shine on collective public despondency in the hope it would all just go away; the core heartbeat and message of the album still rings true.

Joy Division labels are all too easy to come by now however, as the truth is that, particularly lyrically, the band have created an altogether more cryptically complex sounding landscape underneath the base melodies, which takes much exploring to truly reveal its many hidden wonders. The blogosphere has since been awash with wild speculation as to what many of the lyrics mean, with songwriting arrangements aside from Banks’ lyrics very much a democratic process, allowing each member a creative input, and providing a further enigmatic spin on proceedings which adds to the natural charm as the listener creates their own interpretation.

There are inevitably different perspectives to be drawn from the way Ian Curtis previously wrote of alienation and anger at a distressing socio-political climate in eighties Britain, alongside his own personal demons and ailments, to how Banks relates as much to the irrational mind formed in the city which never sleeps. There is often a seamless shifting between tales of repulsion as much as uncontrollable lust and desire, laying bare the ultimately bewildering, unrelenting affliction which represents the at times violent and selfish human psyche in a suitably schizophrenic fashion.

That’s not to say that the songwriting within this particular record contains no logical sense, but it is certainly, and perhaps refreshingly, not as straightforwardly digestible as most contemporary pop music, which often frustratingly contains few deeper meanings. This is best encapsulated on the guitar stabbing powerhouse ‘Obstacle 1’, where the listener appears privy to the inner workings of a frantically scatty neuron signalling within a mind attempting to deal with the desire of transforming a lengthy friendship into something further. This is despite nagging doubts that the object of love may not be wholly right for them, best represented in the polarising lines of, “Her stories are boring and stuff, She’s always calling my bluff,” and the lustful, “It’s in the way that she walks, her heaven is never enough, She puts the weights in my heart.” This track above any other appears to represent the wider themes of an album that can at once draw the listener in with alluring hazy romanticism, only to realise that an unsubtly volatile tirade could be waiting anxiously to erupt behind each line.

Standout tracks, including ‘NYC’, are greeted like familiar old friends, with time not diminishing the effect of what is a chilling tale of an almost post-apocalyptic, downbeat story of a stroll in solitude through the city. The central character is depicted as having fallen out of love with everything the world has to offer, seeing only desolation and seediness where once was a city that cared – an ironic ode to what Banks has often described in interviews as a city which has such an intense proverbial rhythmic undercurrent that leaves a fluctuating impression on mental state when it comes to songwriting. There is a shred of optimism to be found in the closing statement of, “It’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights,” ensuring the song represents a figurative separation device, at least lyrically, distinctly contrasting in comparison to Joy Division’s seemingly bottomless pit of despair.

Say Hello to the Angels’ offers a change of pace midway, with the band revealing at least a partial influence garnered from the unavoidable underground garage rock sound burgeoning in the city during a time in which they were viewed to be somewhat of an antithesis to the trendy scene movement. Frenetic up-tempo power chords provide a similar rhythm to much of Iggy Pop’s work, whilst simultaneously drawing comparisons with the casually endearing clamour seen on The Strokes early records via a Banks vocal replicating a similarly nonchalant Julian Casablancas delivery. An uncanny ability to build a low key atmosphere into something altogether uplifting is highlighted on the initial steady bass undercurrent of ‘Hands Away’, before an almost biblically chiming merge of choir like sustain in earnest vocals and foreboding keyboard, creating an orchestral style combination when matched with increasingly amped rhythm guitar and intermingling lead breaks.

The intricate bass work of Dengler is delivered most poignantly on the record’s longest track ‘Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down’, strutting like a fast walk and throbbing like an underwater sonar pulse through Banks’ nautical analogies of the sea and scuba diving. All a reflection of the central character Stella and her paranoiac psychological struggle in which she ‘dwells’ at the bottom of the ocean, in a song which evokes feelings of at once sympathy and hope.

Leif Erikson’ aptly concludes the revisiting process with some clever wordplay, particularly in the line, “A rabid glow, is like Braille to the night,” as altered pacing between meandering bass couples with the vocals, before a full-throttled gear shift into a soaring harmony, displaying the band’s wish not to remain contented in a trudging, solemnly sedated state, injecting urgency where required and ensuring a stimulatingly unpredictable listen.

For hardcore fans already intimately familiar with the album itself, the super deluxe physical releases of the anniversary edition come stacked with extras which tell the tale of the recording process of the final cut, alongside the story prior to and after the release as the band took the album on the road. Editions available include red, black and white colour coded packaging matching the original artwork, a double LP (with available downloads) and DVD, or the option of a 2CD and DVD combo, while an accompanying 28-page booklet contains images and liner notes from the band. DVD footage includes tracks from landmark performances such as Fogarino’s first performance at the Mercury Lounge, sitting neatly alongside the group’s first performance at the LA Troubadour in September 2002, complete with a high quality multi-camera shoot which fittingly captures the distilled essence of the band in a live setting.

The hallmark of a truly brilliant album is standing the test of time, with reflection away from any media driven hyperbole surrounding the release, by way of association with a wider musical scene movement, or landmark world event which perhaps triggered its creation. While it’s true that this record represented a sonic crystallisation of a brutally honest period of reflection for New Yorkers still in mourning over a terrorist attack that was silently etched on the minds of all its inhabitants, it also provides a broodingly affective and immersive album for anyone recovering from a significant loss of any kind.

There is something to be found within the depths of this record that will resonate with anyone in a certain state of reparation, whether mental or physical, looking for an outlet for scattered emotions, be it from a recent break-up, redundancy or base feelings of isolation at anytime of life.

And that is why this album may still be relevant for many more decades and beyond.

(Jamie Boyd)

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  1. Miriam Glushakoff 1 December, 2012
  2. Plashy 10 December, 2012

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