No matter if you bought their first EP before Pitchfork reviewed it, or if you got on board for their major label debut, it’s an accepted fact that Interpol peaked—as a band, as a brand, as a way of life—on their first two albums. The accepted wisdom is that 2002’s Turn On The Bright Lights is the classic, 2004’s Antics is a great album, and everything since is inessential.
Despite the headline above, I’m not here to debate that introductory assertion a.) because it’s right and b.) to argue otherwise would be relentlessly and needlessly contrarian. I say this as a guy who once wrote a short story inspired by Turn On The Bright Lights. For free. As the band gets set to take the stage at a sold-out Pabst Theater Saturday in support of this year’s El Pintor, I’m here to make the semi-controversial assertion that while Interpol hasn’t been the Interpol since about 2006, their last three albums have songs on them that can stand toe to toe with the best songs on those first two albums. Here are five of those songs.
“No I In Threesome” from 2007’s Our Love To Admire
It’s possible to pinpoint exactly where Interpol lost all the cool cachet they had accrued following their first two full-lengths: this Spin cover story, which had the band—and the writer—speculating endlessly about whether they could appeal to middle America, and if they could manage to sell more than 500,000 copies of their albums (the number Bright Lights and Antics each sold) after moving to major label Capitol. Could you imagine an indie band today worrying they’re selling to the same half-million people each subsequent album? The story painted Interpol as calculating, as a band that was suddenly willing to play showcases for KROQ, and a band unhappy with “just” indie megastardom.
But here’s the thing: Interpol never really changed. They tried to appeal to the middle of the country and their major label by making a regular Interpol album with the occasional string arrangement (2007’s Our Love To Admire). Interpol never tried to sell out to a new sound or a new producer, they never tried to crossover, never wrote a “Use Somebody” to get the frat boys on the bandwagon. They’re a band that found what it meant to be “them” and stuck with it, for better or worse, for the last 15 years. The distance between “Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down” and “No I In Threesome” and “All The Rage Back Home” is so minuscule that to suggest there is a significant difference is lunacy. We get older, but the Interpol stays the same age.
“Heinrich Maneuver” from 2007’s Our Love To Admire
I don’t know if I could pinpoint the definitive “best” Interpol song. But I do know that this is the best Interpol song to hear at 2:15 a.m. when you’ve had 17 High Lifes and are shirtless in a bar trying to feel like you’re 21 again, and that counts for something.
“Barricade” from 2010’s Interpol
Interpol has only released one truly “bad” album: 2010’s Interpol, an album that was more about them proving they could dismantle their own aura, and make an album in their post-major haze. The cover was intentional: this was them breaking up the Interpol mythos, and becoming just another band. For them, that meant making an album that assumes the best Interpol song ever was “Hands Away,” and what fans really wanted was an album of just that song rewritten over and over. “Barricade” is the de facto best song from the album; it’s the only one that sounds like Interpol is supposed to sound.
“Ancient Ways” from 2014’s El Pintor
There’s a reason every review of El Pintor had “return to form” somewhere in the copy. That’s mostly because of “Ancient Ways,” a song that sways like the best Antics-era Interpol songs, and which features a classic Paul Banks opening lyric (“Fuck the ancient ways.”) “Return to form” is a dumb music-writing trope, mostly, but large sections of El Pintor earn it. This is the most vital the band has sounded since, I don’t know, the last three songs of Antics perhaps?
“Anywhere” from 2014’s El Pintor
The moment happens sometime during the first 10 seconds of “Anywhere,” when Daniel Kessler’s guitars chime and bounce off the finest Manhattan loft spaces. That brief 10 seconds when Interpol are the Interpol again, a band selling the dream of cocaine, fashion parties, and idealized downtown indie-rock cool. You forget that the New York you dreamed of during the outro of “PDA” was a sham; finding a decent place to take a shit is difficult, and it turns out New York is not a concrete jungle of European supermodels with loose morals. You forget that you once believed, like Pitchfork did, that Interpol might make their own Kid A. You forget that Carlos D, the only guy in the band with a personality, the guy you watched smoke an entire cigarette without touching it during “Evil” when they were on tour in 2007, left the scene of the crime almost a half decade ago. Interpol lose their baggage in that 10 seconds, those 10 glorious seconds where you can pretend, again, like this band is the band to end all bands.