Interpol - El Pintor Review
"A huge amount has been said on how Interpol would ‘recover’ from the departure of bassist and co-founding member Carlos Dengler. Seemingly, the vast majority of interviews are fixated upon his influence on the band’s sound and the negative effect his exit would supposedly have. Such a line of questioning annoys me. Yes, he was an incredibly gifted musician; a genius is the words of Paul Banks and yes, I’ll be the first to admit, he did bring a lot to the table for Interpol. However, as an entity, he leaves behind three extremely gifted and creative individuals. His exit leaves behind a new-found cohesiveness within the band, something so crucial to Interpol’s sound and outlook.
Akin to the whole Dengler departure obsession, the music press also seem to have a preoccupation with Interpol’s debut, ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’. Whilst there is little question that ‘TOTBL’ is a truly fantastic album, there seems to be an almost inherent need to compare anything post 2002 Interpol with that of ‘TOTBL’. I’ve read on many occasions people say that material from the bands 3rd and 4th albums, ‘Our Love To Admire’ and ‘Interpol’ respectively, “doesn’t sound anything like ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’”. This also annoys me. Just because a band doesn’t necessarily sound like their ‘original’ blueprint, it doesn’t automatically make them or their work inferior. It’s called progression. Progression is needed. If every band’s studio productions sounded like their debuts, music would be an incredibly narrow-minded field of expression.
The album provides a jaunt through Interpol’s 2004-2010 years.
As I mentioned, cohesiveness is key for Interpol. It’s who they are. It’s what they do. It’s how they make music. Every element works and interacts with each other, whether it be Paul’s vocals and Daniel’s guitar or Sam’s drums and (now) Paul’s basslines. ‘El Pintor’ exemplifies this. Everything on the album has its place and everything works and sounds as it should. Effortlessly. Listening to the album, you get the sense that each and every track was written with the intention that it could have been placed any of their previous works with one, very notable exception; ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’.
On many an occasion, Banks states that he ignores all critical reception of Interpol’s work. However, I get the impression that this might be further from the truth than he lets on. ‘TOTBL’ is the ‘gold standard’ for Interpol’s music and as I’ve said before, most people seem to be incredibly hung-up on comparing anything and everything they produce to that fabled debut. Whilst ‘Antics’, ‘Our Love To Admire’ and ‘Interpol’ all have elements of ‘TOTBL’, ‘El Pintor’ is different. Very different. I feel as though a conscious effort was made to write material that deliberately doesn’t fit with the ‘TOTBL’ mould. The album provides a jaunt through Interpol’s 2004-2010 years.
‘All The Rage Back Home’ kicks things off with a distinctly ‘Antics’-era, anthem based feel. As an album ‘Antics’ is one of those whereby each and every song could have been released as a single. ‘All The Rage Back’ home fit’s this bill and is the most ‘radio-friendly’ track from the LP’. ‘My Desire’, the soon-to-be second single and arguably the standout track from ‘El Pintor’ continues the ‘Antics’ approach with guitar lines bearing similarities to that of classic ‘NARC’. Track three, ‘Anywhere’ is somewhat a disappointment if truth be told. There’s nothing lyrically or structurally wrong with the track, in fact it’s a solid effort but the studio tempo lets it down. It’s all wrong. It’s too slow. It sounds much better, more complete when played at the higher live version tempo.
‘Same Town, New Story’ sees the beginnings of the transition away from the ‘Antics’-era sonics. There’s a more treble present feel. More keyboards. More emphasis on the higher frequencies indicative of the Our Love To Admire period. Track 5, ‘My Blue Supreme’ is no different. The keyboard presence runs throughout, gluing the instrumental components together, providing that cohesive sound. The guitar work of Kessler and Banks feels as though they listened to ‘OLTA’ for inspiration. That’s a good thing. Much has been said that ‘OLTA’ was the “beginning of Interpol’s decline”. In my eyes, that’s nonsense. ‘OLTA’ is a good album and one in which Interpol are obviously proud of. Referencing sounds from it shows that they’re principled musicians and keen to show that they’re happy with their work, regardless of critical reception. I like that. ‘Everything Is Wrong’ follows ‘Same Town, New Story’ and ‘My Blue Supreme’ in continuing the ‘OLTA’ throwback, albeit in a slightly lower dosage. It’s a tad more original, less influenced if you will. For me, it’s one of those tracks which makes you stop and think “I’ve heard this one before but I’m not quite sure where”. ‘Breaker 1’ ends the ‘Our Love To Admire’ connection with a guitar rich mix. A heavier, less refined tone supports the keyboards.
It sounds almost like how ‘The New’ would have sounded had they written and recorded it for ‘El Pintor’.
Track 8, ‘Ancient Ways’ is a strange one. While the previous 7 tracks all fit discography material, ‘Ancient Ways’ is somewhat left-field for Interpol. As a whole, possibly their heaviest track to date. A completely original track, no hint of “this sounds like *insert Interpol song*”. It’s three minutes of rock which, along with ‘My Desire’, stand out on the album. Lyrically, ‘Ancient Ways’ leaves me wondering if there’s a message to Mr Dengler and those who harp on about ‘TOTBL’; “Fuck the ancient ways”…
Track 9 of the EP, ‘Tidal Wave’ leans into the ‘Interpol’ timeframe. The ‘Interpol’ timeframe with a twist; at the risk of saying it, and without wishing to sound contradictory, it’s the most ‘TOTBL’ sounding track from ‘El Pintor’. It sounds almost like how ‘The New’ would have sounded had they written and recorded it for ‘El Pintor’. The Key word in that sentence being almost. Unlike nearly everything else off the album, ‘Tidal Wave’ isn’t a track that can be picked up and dropped into any of Interpol’s works. Despite the loose ‘TOTBL’ sound, ‘Tidal Wave’ just wouldn’t sit right as part of that album. Closing the album, ‘Twice As Hard’ offers a huge hit of ‘Interpol’ era sound. Much in the same vein as ‘Memory Serves’, the guitar work resonates throughout the mix creating a dark underpinning to the track that only Interpol can do and do well. Simple yet hugely effective piano chords provide the backbone for the track and offer the most notable influence of ‘Interpol’ period sound of any ‘El Pintor’ track.
Interpol never lost their form.
As a big Interpol fan, it would be easy for me to sit here and simply say that ‘El Pintor’ is a top, top album. Whilst I’m more than happy to admit that given the choice of ‘TOTBL’ or ‘Interpol’ say, I’d pick ‘TOTBL’ 99 times out of 100, they’re still good albums and this leads me to another issue. I recently read that ‘El Pintor’ was a “return to form for Interpol”, something that confused me slightly. Interpol never lost their form. They progressed. They tried something different. ‘El Pintor’ feels like the culmination of such. Almost a peak if you will. Everything on the album sounds as it should. They’ve managed to make Interpol sound like Interpol whilst maintaining a strange, and very purposeful form of originality. ‘El Pintor’ is everything I imagined it would be. It’s a wonderful album and one in which Interpol should rightfully be proud of. It’s one that in 5 years time will sit in the company of ‘TOTBL’ without question. A superb piece of craftsmanship and performance. A true example of why they’re the band they are; nothing short of utterly brilliant. Carlos who?”
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