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Turn On The Bright Lights

It comes in seductive rushes and swoops, guitars shimmering (courtesy of Daniel Kessler and Carlos D. respectively) underneath the evocative vocals of Paul Banks, an heir apparent to the likes of such exalted 80’s synth/gloom rock bands as Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Divison, The Chameleons, The Smiths, et al.  It is heady company to keep for sure, but for Carlos D, Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks, and Samuel Fogarino the aforementioned obvious influences are ONLY that:  just influences.  The NYC quartet brings their own brand of searing, angst-ridden 80’s by-way-of 2002 electro-rock (now retro rock) to a populace that reveres and demands substantive rock.  And Interpol’s full- length debut on Matador Records, “Turn on the Bright Lights” is an unspoiled gem, a rare find in a time when rock music has become homogenized and stripped of its inherent value and meaning.  This record begs you to listen intently; coveting its themes of desolation and desertion, desperation and hope, and unrequited yearning...  lulling you into this dazed state as you marvel at the sheer intensity of Paul Bank’s impassioned vocals.  Make no mistake; “Turn on the Bright Lights” is indeed brilliant... in all its plaintive, disarming melancholy.  It may proclaim its esteemed references too loudly, but it also displays a psychological and musical complexity that is light years beyond the band’s 4-year tenure together. 

Leading off the 11-track Matador debut is the Chameleons-esque song “Untitled.”  Dreamy and expansive with lush guitar work by Daniel Kessler and equally mesmerizing drumming by Samuel Fogarino, vocalist Paul Banks is able to unleash the sonic romantic when he proclaims “I will surprise you sometime... I’ll come around...when you’re down.”  Simple and understated is the only approach taken on this track and that’s all that is needed.  Though the song screams of melancholy in all its sonic textures, a sense of real hope abounds in the end with that final couplet.  I was sucked in from this first track and couldn’t wait to hear more.

And more I did hear with the successive tune “Obstacle 1.”  Desperate and urgent, feverish and driving, this song will most likely garner comparisons to Joy Division’s “Something Must Break.”  As if he were summoning the vocal ghost of Ian Curtis himself, Paul Banks intones:

“I wish I could eat the salt off of your lost faded lips/we could cap the old times make playing only logical harm/we could cap the old lines make playing that nothing else will change”

as Samuel and Daniel maintain the appropriate levels of musical tension that eventually crescendoes roughly 2:07 into the song with crashing drums and pounding bass lines (provided by Carlos D) and comes to an exhausted climax with the sobering mantra (of sorts) “she passed away” and the final searing lyrics:

“It’s in the way that she was / heaven is never enough / she puts the weights in my heart /she puts the she puts the weights into my little heart”

Compelling and uncompromising in its retelling of love lost and the grief that accompanies it, “Obstacle 1” is one of my favorite tunes off of Interpol’s debut album.  Such haunting and pained imagery provides just the right amount of heartache to a song that grips you and won’t let you go.  It will echo in your consciousness for quite some time. 

A favorite song of many who have listened to Interpol’s “Turn on the Bright Lights” is the song “NYC.”  At times a paean and a verbal attack on the city that birthed the career of this young group of enterprising musicians, “NYC” remains an enigma... just like the city itself.  Cloaked in a darkness, a bleakness so sinister (that even Ian Curtis would be impressed) the song begins with Banks revealing:

“I had seven faces thought I knew which one to wear/ I’m sick of spending these lonely nights training myself not to care/ the subway is a porno the pavements they are a mess / I know you’ve supported me a long time/somehow I’m not impressed”

and has Banks ultimately reconsidering his take on the city some 1:16 into the song with the refrain:

“New York Cares (got to be some more change in my life)/New York Cares (got to be some more change in my life)/New York Cares (got to be some more change in my life)/New York Cares (got to be some more change in my life)”

Realizing that The City will not automatically provide the protagonist with the kind of acceptance, acclaim, and recognition that he seeks is an epiphany of epic proportions.  It’s ultimately the responsibility of the resident to find this kind of peace within himself as echoed by the right-on lyric:  “it’s up to me now turn on the bright lights...”  Well, gentlemen, the bright lights are indeed on and they are casting you in a glow that will only make you smile.  New York Cares indeed... as does Raleigh, North Carolina, Boston, Massachusetts and a plethora of other cities across the country. 

However, the most riveting and arresting song on this accomplished disc just might be “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down.”  Clocking in at an impressive 6:28 (by far the most fully realized song on the album), this tune explores the beauty and mystery of a love that exists no more.  Again opting to employ the haunting and jarring bass lines to glorious effect with much revered sonic aplomb and those shimmering guitar riffs, Interpol convey a kind of wistfulness and palpable tension with every frenzied refrain of “stella i love you stella i love you stella i love you.”  Those impassioned pleas and the accompanying lines:

“She was all right cause the sea was so airtight she broke away/She was all right cause the sea was so airtight she broke away/She was all right but she can’t come out tonight she broke away...”

make for an especially seductive song.  Eerie and at times even overtly sexual (try the lyric: “she was my catatonic sex toy love-drunk diver” on for size), Interpol are NOT afraid to go where other bands have not:  to the basest, deepest recesses of our psyches... you’ll be surprised at what a pleasant journey this is... on a purely passive level, that is.  You may not want to “turn on the bright lights” for this effort.  Instead, savor the beauty of this melodic gem in the privacy of a cool autumnal night.  With the lights dimmed low... very low.

Heather Fraser


  1. Untitled
  2. Obstacle 1
  3. NYC
  4. PDA
  5. Say Hello to the Angels
  6. Hands Away
  7. Obstacle 2
  8. Stella was a diver and she was always down
  9. Roland
  10. The New
  11. Leif Erikson

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