Interpol, Our Love to Admire CD review: First Listen

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Interpol’s major label debut, Our Love to Admire, leaked on the Internet this week, two-and-a-half weeks before it arrives in stores officially on July 10. (And a mere five-and-change weeks before the NYC quartet plays the Pageant, on August 1.)

The Joy Division/Echo & the Bunnymen/Chameleons comparisons thrown at the band remain valid, but Admire also channels the work of another seminal gloomy band, at least in an abstract sense: The Cure. More specifically, the stark, stormy clouds of Faith/Seventeen Seconds/Pornography-era Cure, a time when Robert Smith & Co. focused on atmosphere over traditional song structure, a time when abject misery and howling despair dominated its music. A few pop songs peek out from the murk, but the focus of Admire (and those Cure discs) is rich, gorgeous texture.

Admire feels much creepier and more sinister than both of Interpol’s previous albums, Antics and Turn on the Bright Lights – both lyrically and musically. The latter is perhaps because the richer music allows a broader medium for depths of expression – but largely due more to the band’s awe-inspiring use of dynamics, which makes Admire often feel quite like a movie score. Restraint and passion -- and solemnity and chaos -- co-exist, pushing and pulling at each other to create tension and resolution. Sure, Admire is still mannered and impeccably rendered – if Interpol has one major strength, it’s that its albums always sound magnificent and beautiful, glossy without sounding fake or over-produced – but it’s also the most vibrant Interpol album yet.

And while the disc is more suited to the dead of winter than mid-summer – and it certainly has its ice-queen, detached moments – it’s also somehow not as monochrome (or monotonous). Consider it covering the entire black-through-white palette, instead of just a few shades of gray. Listen to it while wearing headphones. Listen to it while driving around in the dark. Just listen to it – despite all of the hype and secrecy surrounding it, it’s a rewarding album. Here's a song-by-song analysis:

“Pioneer to the Falls”: Like Turn on the Bright Lights’ opening song, “Untitled 1,” the opening song on Our Love to Admire is a slowly unfurling tune that crescendos and builds until exhausted by its end. Credit the major-label budget, or Interpol’s ever-increasing ambition, but “Falls” is arguably the richest song they’ve ever recorded (and the most Cure-like). Death-march piano and woodwinds add counter-melodies; a giant quivering mass of strings swells in the middle section, and horns pipe in at the end. Vocalist Paul Banks presides over the song like a stern, somber preacher peering over the pulpit at his congregation – a delivery matched by lyrics: “Show me the dirt pile, and I will pray the soul can take / Three stowaways / In a passion, it broke / I pulled the black from the gray / But the soul can wait / I felt you so much today.” A bit too long, but beautiful to behold.

“No I in Threesome”: A rumbling, solitary bassline from Carlos D dominates the song’s start, a desolate gesture that segues neatly into distressed minor chords doing a macabre death-dance with plinking piano. Banks’ voice falls into the background, almost drowned out by the music swooning around him – music that’s dramatic and almost romantic, until you consider the lyrics. Taken on their own, words such as, “Babe, it’s time we give something new a try / Oh alone we may fight / So just let us be free tonight” and “Through the storms and the light / Baby, you’ve stood by my side / And life is wine / You feel the sweet breath of time / It’s whispering its truth, not mine / There’s no I in threesome / And I am all for it” seduce in a flowery-poetry/pillow-talk vulnerability sense. But Banks’ monotone delivery in conjunction with the dark music turns these phrases creepy. He doesn’t seem like someone in a loving couple suggesting something to spice up their sex life; he sounds like a shadow figure cajoling his partner into doing something she might not necessarily want. Still, it's an enthralling song -- and my personal favorite on the album.

“Scale”: Another mid-tempo but clunky dirge, this time driven by jagged guitars that feel very reminiscent of 1980s dark-wave. “I made you / And now I take you back” are the prevailing lyrics. Rather boring.

“Heinrich Maneuver”: The token uptempo Interpol single for mainstream radio to play. Obvious hooks, bouncy bassline, memorable guitar riffs, suitably cryptic lyrics. An enjoyable song, but other tracks on Admire are more rewarding (so haters can shush).

“Mammoth”: Even more than the previous song, “Mammoth” reaches out and grabs listeners by the throat – a nice change from the polite Interpol melancholy we’re used to. (Banks sounds like he breaks a sweat! Passion!) A faraway voice that’s light (and reminiscent of Bob Mould at times) whispers the phrase “spare me the suspense” over ringing, insistent, brisk guitars; Banks chimes in after a few verses and utters the same phrase in his trademark low tones. Great bridge, fantastic drumming and interesting crescendos. Warm and inviting, it’s most like an Editors song – and as a corollary, could be an outtake from the sessions for R.E.M.’s Green.

“Pace is the Trick”: A stunning, gorgeous-sounding song that sonically is very Turn on the Bright Lights and arranged in a traditional verse-chorus-bridge, etc. way. A sparse, skeletal melody accompanies Banks’ hollow intoning on the early verses; the chorus expands into a lush, multi-tracked attack of charcoal guitars and multi-layered vocals, which find Banks again reaching into his upper range. The cinematic lyrics reek of intrigue, if not vague hints of misogyny and self-loathing: “You can’t hold it too tight / These matters of security / You don’t have to be wound so tight / Smoking on the balcony / It’s that sleaze in the park / And women, you have no self-control / The angels remark outside / You are known for insatiable needs / I don’t know a thing / I’ve seen love / And I’ve followed the speed in the starlight.” The ending of the song involves Banks repeating the phrase: “You don’t hold a candle” over the plush, interwoven melodies and harmonies. Simply beautiful – almost too pristine to disturb -- and a clear highlight.

“All Fired Up”: Dirty, dingy riffs that are very Jesus and Mary Chain anchor the song; drumming is quite prominent and propulsive. The song starts with the vaguely sinister lines “I dream of you draped in wires and leaning on the brakes.” Also very early Psychedelic Furs-sounding. Would be great remixed and sped up somewhat.

“Rest My Chemistry”: Vaguely Pixies-ish guitars – specifically, the towering howls of “Where Is My Mind?” – snake through for melody. Slower than the past few songs and off-kilter sounding – but catchy.

“Who Do You Think?”: Spare, clashing guitars at the start make the song threaten to dissolve into a Rapture tune. And spiraling beats emerge that are rather danceable – in the new-wave, gawky sort of way. Like Bauhaus dirty-dancing with U2. Not very memorable, and also sorta clunky.

“Wrecking Ball”: Swaggering, moody, confident. Banks sounds like he’s singing from inside a tunnel, or coming from behind a door – which adds to the brooding feeling of the muted song. Slowly, lyrics emerge: “Nobody warned you / Nobody told you / Make up your mind / Nobody told you / That I could just waltz through / And shake up your style / I’m inside / Like a wrecking ball.” Nearly three minutes into the song, it nearly stops dead and then continues as a near-instrumental. Mournful guitar, synths and horns (along with faint vocals) slowly build and wind around each other like a movie score, or like an Explosions in the Sky song – evoking great sadness and loss. Another highlight.

“Lighthouse”: The most ideal representation of the album-as-movie-score theory. Understated, lullabye-like, and moodier than a gothic teenager mired in Edward Scissorhands suburbia. Very, very reminiscent of Nick Cave’s somber sea-songs; it’s quite slow, and sonically resembles the quiet peace of sleeping on a boat in the middle of a lake. A perfect coda to the record, that actually wraps around perfectly to the first track if the album is on repeat – wonderful symmetry that befits the record's tone.

-- Annie Zaleski

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