Interpol’s Once-Bright Lights Have Dimmed

On July 18, 2022

Each week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is The Other Side Of Make-Believe, the seventh LP from Interpol.

What do we even want from Interpol in 2022? Early aughts nostalgia? Detached post-punk revival records made by guys in sharp suits? Two decades after the NYC indie-rock staples put out their beloved debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, the now-trio have made multiple attempts at recapturing what made them truly exciting at the turn of the century. I wouldn’t say “great” or “interesting” — “exciting” is the operative word, because Interpol were never that deep or exceptionally talented. But with 2002’s Turn On The Bright Lights, 2004’s Antics, and even 2007’s Our Love To Admire, Paul Banks & co. tapped into a mixture of new millennium energy and post-9/11 paranoia with tight, wiry songs recalling Television and Joy Division at their catchiest, while updating the ’80s aesthetic to be slicker, more modern — and with suits.

When Interpol first became famous, they were part of something bigger — the NYC rock revival movement (recently captured in Lizzy Goodman’s oral history Meet Me in the Bathroom) comprised many other downtown bands such as the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Walkmen. But it’s been two decades. Interpol, like it or not, is a nostalgia act. The bright lights have dimmed. Founding bassist Carlos Dengler, aka Carlos D, has been out of the band since the completion of their 2010 self-titled album. It doesn’t bring me any pleasure to say that every album they’ve released since Our Love To Admire has been met by critics with a resounding “meh.” That anxious, crisp tension Interpol brought to Bright Lights and Antics has long since been released, and all that’s left are bland chord progressions, mid-tempo musings and a dead-eyed stare. Interpol are the sonic equivalent of a once-popular blog that was bought by a private equity firm that fired all of their best writers but still publishes content via scabs.

Yet the band chugs forward, now with their seventh studio album, The Other Side Of Make-Believe. It’s something of a reunion for the band, who wrote the whole project remotely (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), eventually recording in North London with producers Alan Moulder and Flood. Moulder is a returning player, having mixed the band’s fourth and fifth albums, 2010’s self-titled and 2014’s El Pintor. They’ve also opted to actively embrace optimism — a tone that does not translate much to Interpol’s usual dour, noir-ish sound. 

Why the pivot to optimism? “I’m sure you could look at a psychoanalysis, in the context of a pandemic, why an artist who typically writes morose shit might go in a different direction,” Paul Banks told Rolling Stone last year. “It might just be where I’m at.” Banks didn’t specify “where he’s at,” except to say he spent the first pandemic year holed up with his girlfriend in Edinburgh, Scotland, which, frankly, sounds lovely. 

Still, you would think that a mood boost would do something, anything to revive Interpol’s demeanor on The Other Side Of Make-Believe, which, save for a few bursts of elation, is an overall dull affair. Opener and single “Toni” begins the album with promise, layering ominous, plinking piano over thudding percussion. However, Banks’ vocals sound shaky, unsure if he really is “going in the right direction.” 

Follow-up “Fables” trudges ahead, sounding woozy and weighed down as Banks mumbles over an uninspired guitar melody. Meanwhile, “Something Changed” sounds like an unreleased National B-side, and not in a good way. The mood here is more characteristically morose, with Banks observing, “No parade, nobody’s coming / We’re all part of the same pack / And I wanna see / What kind of place they’d lay for me.” 

Envisioning Banks as a ghost is believable, considering how little blood The Other Side Of Make-Believe has in its veins. Things pick up on the more adrenaline-filled “Renegade Hearts,” and do again a few tracks down on “Gran Hotel.” Songs like these are potent reminders of why Interpol once mattered to so many fans, myself included. As someone who came of age with Interpol’s LES vibe — because that’s what they were: a whole vibe — I’m not attempting to argue that they should have never changed. But Interpol were a band that had a shtick; they did one thing extremely well. I think they take themselves a little too seriously, even in their 40s, to let that be a reality. Until it does, we’ll get more zombified albums like The Other Side Of Make-Believe, which showcase glimmers of past glory — and not much else. 

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Rachel Brodsky

Rachel Brodsky is a culture writer, critic and reporter living in Los Angeles. You can find her writing on music, TV, film, gender and comedy in outlets such as Stereogum, the LA Times, the Guardian, the Independent, Vulture, UPROXX, uDiscover Music, SPIN and plenty more.

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