47. Turn on the Bright Lights

Turn on the Bright LightsInterpol (2002)

How: It’s taken me through the first six albums on this list to tell you a story about how most people discovered music before Napster: I first heard Interpol on the radio. It was 2007, the year of the band’s underrated third release Our Love to Admire. The first song of theirs I heard on Indie 103.1 FM, God rest her, was probably “The Heinrich Maneveur,” though it could have been “No I In Threesome” or “Pioneer to the Falls.” It doesn’t really matter; I loved all of them, I immediately fell for the band’s mature brooding, and the Internet directed me to the rest of their discography. From my perspective, it was an archaic way of discovering music I enjoyed, like visiting a museum and fully understanding how cavemen functioned.

Why: Daft Punk’s immortal anime Interstella 5555 chronicles an alien band kidnapped to Earth and re-fashioned to fit American tastes. Everything from their haircuts, to their wardrobe, to their skin color is tailor-made for global appeal, and it’s among the reasons “The Crescendolls” become the biggest band in Daft Punk’s fictional world. This is how I imagined Interpol came about, because I say without hesitation that they are the best looking band in the history of the world. The sharp suits and shiny shoes not only contrasted whatever The Strokes wore at the time, but also harkened back to when The Beatles launched every teenage girl into a literal hysteria with their uniforms and bowl cuts. Early pictures of Paul Banks, Carlos Dengler, Sam Fogarino, and Daniel Kessler indicated a band ready for Esquire stardom.

But then one presses play, and then one realizes the music doesn’t fit the look. These Interpol guys, they were really sad. It didn’t make too much sense: their wardrobe probably cost more (and was prettier) than the instruments they were playing and they had New York City (mad with rock after Is This It?) in the palm of their hands. What caused Mr. Banks to scream at us “you go stabbing yourself in the neck!”? What exactly was with all the post 9/11 self-pity? Was being young and talented in the world’s greatest city not enough? Everything was shiny and macabre, from their pressed suits, to Banks’s terrifying vocals, to Kessler’s impressionistic guitar, to Carlos D.’s, the most recognizable bass player since Kim Deal, bleak brushstrokes. On Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol presents a professional melancholy that was once thought to be territory of only the unfocused and heartsick. The suits were businesslike, and after hearing the wall of noise picks up on “NYC” for the first time, their impeccable wardrobe finally made sense to me.

Among it’s other striking qualities, Turn on the Bright Lights has the best opening three songs to an album I have ever heard. Not only do the untitled track, “Obstacle 1,” and “NYC” meander seamlessly among one another’s sulking theatrics, but they also manage to stand out amongst one another and beyond any artist putting his/her depressing pen to paper. On the untitled track, Banks sings, “I’ll come around/when you’re down,” as if he knows this is the go-to album for those all too aware of their depression. The untitled track acknowledges sadness as an inevitable consequence of breathing, while “Obstacle 1” uses scream therapy and an incredible rhythm section to put a terrifying face to heartsickness. “Obstacle 1” angers, and “NYC” follows with Banks resigned to an emotive state too devoid of energy for crying, though the expanding ambient wall would happily provide the incentive for such a release. The album is incredibly top-heavy, and everything that follows doesn’t live up to the same emotional expression.

That’s not to say the other eight songs Interpol offers are slouches; on any other album, “PDA” and “Roland” would make competent centerpieces, while “The New” and “Hands Away” continue Banks’s admirable streak of self-pity with his trademark gruff monotone. The closest the band approaches to the brilliance presented on the album’s first third is the incredibly moving “Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down,” a song that showcases Carlos D.’s ingenuity on bass and Banks’s unique ability to turn the listener away from his unattractive portrait of former lovers. “Stella” also provides the climax of the album, wherein Banks screams the name of the woman he lost, giving Marlon Brando a run for his money.

Turn on the Bright Lights was the band’s celebrated debut, and when it dropped, Interpol joined the likes of Pixies, Pearl Jam, and Fleet Foxes as bands that rocketed straight to the top in their respective corners of rock ‘n roll. Much like The Strokes, they have yet to match the success of their debut, but even if they are never able to re-scratch the surface of the emotional cavern they helped construct, their fingerprints are placed firmly at its base. Interpol was sad, and Turn on the Bright Lights is really good at being really sad.

Next: Source Tags and Codes– And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead… (2002) 

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