Interpol El Pintor

[Matador; 2014]

Styles: Turn On the Bright Lights, Antics, Our Love to Admire, Interpol
Others: Turn On the Bright Lights, Antics, Our Love to Admire, Interpol

Take a step back for a second and ask yourself a question: why the hell do people bother singing about pain? Seriously, what’s the point of waving dejection and suffering under someone else’s nose? What does a singer who engages in such a bizarre ritual hope to achieve? Well, to take this week’s advertisement for pornographic despair qua cultural institution, Interpol might possibly claim that it serves to aid the whole recovery process via catharsis, to purge our systems of misery, and ultimately grow as people on various emotional, psychological, and spiritual levels. Unfortunately, this is bullshit, and even the most superficial listen to the anhedonic mire of the Interpol catalog would reveal that Paul Banks and co. have never moved beyond the melancholia of their debut. And before anyone raises El Pintor, their fifth album, as late proof of how being seriously bummed can actually be a springboard to greater things (the ability to write anagrams of your band’s name notwithstanding), let it be said that this much-needed tour through more-of-the-same is yet more evidence that baring your psychic boo-boos is merely a springboard into baring your psychic boo-boos over and over again.

For Interpol, this psychological attrition usually refers to a female other, and El Pintor is no different in this regard. “All the Rage Back Home” kicks off with the slides and pull-offs of a maudlin guitar lick, its lilting reverb slowly igniting an anti-love story in which such lighthearted wisecracks as “She said, you don’t read minds” skirt around — you guessed it — the impossibility of love, of ever being able to have insight into another to the extent where you can truly claim to love them and not some stereotyped hypothesis of who they are. The staged intensification of Kessler and Banks’ trickly guitars testifies to a heightened sensitivity to dynamics, yet even though the song compares to the band’s best, there’s still the fundamental yet unanswered question of why Banks or anyone else would think it a good idea to go on stressing their anguish before a private or public audience, not least when over a decade of doing so hasn’t removed his need of doing so. Yeah, perhaps this is a perverse question to ask when it could apply to so much other music, but with Interpol, there’s the distinct impression that either Banks whines to guilt a significant other into feeling responsible for his tortured soul (passive-aggression), to take revenge on the world by polluting it with mental unhealth (active-aggression), or because the widespread adulation his band received in its early days has conditioned him into thinking that it’s his only way of obtaining plaudits (active-capitulation).

Here we reach the crux of Interpol’s problem. From the pining trills and frustrated tremolo pickings of “My Desire” to the Stella-Was-A-Diver imagery of “Breaker 1” and “Tidal Wave,” El Pintor reverberates with the stylistic and thematic echoes of their debut. As welcome as this debut was at the time, and as arguably relevant as its topoi of absence and alienation are to us all, there’s something very disquieting about a band that, four albums later, is obstinately continuing to mine its somber wellsprings. It implies that, rather than being part of some process of existential and personal growth, the lamentations of a washy number like “My Blue Supreme” are an empty formality devoid of consequence and meaning. In other words, they feel like affectations that the band produce again and again in order to secure favorable press and the consumers that follow, and in the end, this preoccupation with repeatedly repeating forlorn detachment bears witness to the unhealthy, disproportionate influence critical and commercial adulation can have on a band’s development (or lack thereof). Because they might fear having their meal ticket removed if they significantly overhaul themselves, this insidious influence has conceivably robbed Interpol of control over their own trajectory, their own identity, so that they’re now as much a social or media construct as any cartoon character or faked news story. And it’s probably for this reason as much as any other that there’s a note of flat skepticism in Banks’ voice during the regretful “Everything Is Wrong” when he sings, “I guess we hope in time/ What is now/ Is overcome.”

So, knowing that El Pintor might be more or less a function of art being the one context where people are rewarded for perpetual failure, and that the album can therefore come off as a mere formality, what comments can be passed on the merit of its form? Most notably (which isn’t saying too much), there’s a marginally increased use of ornamentation in the playing of Banks and Kessler, with “Same Town, New Story” being another track to employ fluid hammer-ons for melodic effect. There’s also the presence of Brandon Curtis (Secret Machines) on keyboards, who among other things inflects the searching chorus of “Anywhere” with cloudy resonance. Yet quite apart from how a vaguely promising first half lapses into the same grey drizzle that Interpol have been churning out since Antics (or maybe Turn On the Bright Lights), such embellishments are a tokenistic distraction from the fact that, in all other regards, Interpol have altered neither their approach nor their palette, so that, sadly, the stagnation of their M.O. is a fitting complement to the stagnation of their emotional focus and their worldview, which seems intent on finding fault with everything until the end of time. And really, with the supposedly knowing fatalism of “Ancient Ways” and its incessant guitar surge, you’d think that Banks is smart enough to recognize that if it’s not possible to change the world to fit your desires, you should change your desires to fit the world. But then maybe reconciliation isn’t so profitable…

That said, it’s nonetheless hard to imagine how the recycled disaffection of El Pintor could be especially profitable for Interpol. People like gloom for sure, but they like it to be repackaged every once in a while in a new skin, so as to provide the illusion that navel-gazing can equal progress. With El Pintor, this mirage isn’t serviced, and even if the album boasts a few diverting spins of lugubrious post-punk, the weight of these spins is diminished by the knowledge that nothing is at stake, that the wearied dissatisfaction they promulgate has never and seemingly will never contribute to biographical change. And since they comprise the New Yorkers’ fifth album, the only conclusion must be that Interpol are happy with not being happy, despite all their pretensions to the contrary.

Links: Interpol - Matador

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