Wednesday, September 23, 2009

#99. 'Stabbing yourself in the neck'

Interpol "Obstacle 1"

Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a relatively young band is hype. Hype builds up expectations, and god forbid you fall short of those no matter how inflated they get or else the vengeance of the public will fall swiftly upon you. Even if you live up to the hype, all the goodwill you muster out of that will come back to bite you whenever you release a new album. The minute you become the next big thing you're all but doomed for failure basically, because even if you make the grade initially you've got nowhere to go but down after that. Just look at the reactions to the three Interpol albums if you want a good example: every one of them has their fans and their detractors, but the scale slides more and more towards the latter with each new album. The reasons for this aren't hard to figure out if you've heard all three of them: it's the case where the debut is lightning captured in a bottle and everything that follows it is just straining to recapture that singular energy for even one song let alone the whole album.

The weird thing is that in hindsight Turn On the Bright Lights isn't the classic it gets made out to be. It's poorly sequenced, has no sense of flow despite its fairly uniform sound and is riddled with some of the worst lyrics of any 'instant classic' album that got released this decade. The last point is the only one worth going any further into here since "Obstacle 1" features one of the album's real lyrical clunkers (though it's excised from the video edit for some reason), but other than that it's probably the best example of everything the band did right on their debut. It just comes across as completely effortless, never trying too hard to hit the heights of the band's obvious influences (here it's Echo and the Bunnymen above the others) but coming close to achieving them nonetheless. If it weren't for Paul Banks' lyrics they probably would. If I'd come across this album a few years later I mght have been able to ignore the really strained lyrics, but it got into my hands during the time I was still a bit too lyric focused for my own good. As such, even now as I get a larger appreciation for its instrumental ideas I still do a little cringe at the lyrics because I'm used to focusing there.It's not exactly fair to the song that I have such a hard time getting past that, and without that quibble I wouldn't hesitate to place this higher up here.

Ignoring the lyrics though, it's quite easy to see why Interpol stood out among the first wave of post-punk revivalists. The quartet work like a well oiled machine, the guitars playing off each other in non-complex but still interesting way while the rhythm section does just as much to give the tracks a sense of motion as it does to add more melodic texture to the track and Banks' vocals are stronger than the lyrics would merit. It all works together wonderfully, from the panned guitar interplay in the chorus interludes to the second verse's slightly more involved drum pattern. It's a great example of just how much a song's quality can stem from how well the band behind works together. It's the sort of thing that's hard to describe on paper but easy to hear when it gets done well, and "Obstacle 1" is one of those instances where it gets done incredibly well.

Coming up tomorrow: Can quirk co-exist with standard R 'n' B? The answer is yes, but if you want a hit you need to tone the former down.

No comments: