Album Review

Interpol "Interpol"

Beware of a band self-declaring a “return to form.”

Interpol – New York’s foremost purveyor of reverb-swathed guitar trance – has emerged with an eponymous fourth album, and even the title foreshadows the lack of inspiration dooming these 11 songs into an indiscernible mass of mid-tempo apathy. Pre-release buzz centered on comments from the band promising that the new sound would hearken back to the early days. One minor red flag: Interpol’s frigid back-alley soundtrack identity hadn’t really changed over the course of three albums. Reading between the lines, “return to form” could be interpreted as, “Apparently folks don't like us as much as they used to, so we're going to tinker with the recipe.”

No argument here, unless tinkering with the recipe means abandoning all of the tasty ingredients.

Interpol follows a lengthy hiatus after 2007’s Our Love to Admire, an underrated effort at experimentation that met with a lukewarm shrug from fans and critics alike. Granted, the band’s first two records were an impossible act to follow. Turn On the Bright Lights was a universally hailed debut, and Antics was a surprisingly taut suckerpunch of a follow-up. What made those albums great was the balance of bleak and buoyant, atmospheric murmurs concealing razor-sharp hooks. Those memorable melodies are precisely what is lacking from Interpol, rendering the “return to form” argument woefully inaccurate.

Here the band finally crosses the line from brooding to boring. Side I shows promise, but damningly backtracks to negate every step forward. There is simply none of the panicked urgency that made their earlier work so gripping. Every other ingredient is still there – the chiming guitars, Sam Fogarino's propulsive beats, Paul Banks’ possessed zombie drone of a voice – but the finished product has lost its zest.

Opener “Success” builds handsomely around Banks’ declaration, “Somebody make me say no,” and “Memory Serves” flirts with epic. But “Summer Well” hiccups on its awkward anti-melody, and “Lights” never matures beyond its dull foundation. “Barricade” is a driving force, such an obvious nod to the band’s earlier work that here it feels oddly misplaced, even painful. And unlike Interpol classics such as “Obstacle 1” and “Say Hello to the Angels,” these arrangements fizzle instead of accelerating through a jarring array of twisted riffs.

“Barricade” sets up a launchpad for Side II of Interpol, but the band squanders any momentum by sticking steadfast to the moody snoozers. Lazy fadeouts abound. Songs don’t develop so much as shuffle and whimper, with no chorus, no hook – nothing memorable. And then there’s “All of the Ways,” which commits the unforgivable sin of removing the drumsticks from Fogarino's hands. Ultimately, Interpol feels like a 46-minute flatline of an album, with no heartbeat to be found.

In their attempt to look back, Interpol has unfortunately taken a step in that direction, as well.