Interpol: Marauder – New Yorkers age well, but we still miss their old ‘Antics’
Music crit pep talk: I won’t slobber over Antics, I won’t slobber over Antics. Interpol, though, right? Phenomenal stuff. A definitive band of the early 2000s, when indie felt vital and exciting. Their first two albums, Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics – oh, precious Antics – are blog-era guitar music classics. These New York pulpiteers pulled from the darkest corners of throwback post-punk to make dapper guitar music shrouded in sin. If the Grim Reaper does exist, maybe he comes to collect souls in a slim-fit suit and skinny tie.
Interpol are among a group of great bands that arrived around the dawn of the new millennium fully formed but have found it difficult to maintain their high levels. Third album Our Love to Admire was solid but lacked the powerful vehemence of their debut (truly an era-defining record) or the hook-heavy exhilaration of Antics. The band’s self-titled fourth LP was a joyless tab of bad Quantrex. Released in 2014, most recent effort El Pintor represented a solid, back-to-basics approach, but it couldn’t consistently find the old magic.
There are no hard plotlines or easy answers as to why Interpol have creatively decayed. Life gets in the way; people creep towards different places as they age. Bass guitarist Carlos Dengler left in 2010, stripping the machine of one of its components. Interpol are still an excellent live act. Their set at Electric Picnic last year, which saw them play Turn on The Bright Lights from start to finish, was a festival highlight. Yet the prospect of the band ever cutting another classic seems as slippery as an eel on ice. If new album Marauder is better than I expected it’s because my expectations are so low. A clutch of the songs are great; some are not. Those trademark one-string guitar lines still echo; Paul Banks’s voice still lurches with extreme dread. For this album, Interpol recruited producer Dave Fridmann, perhaps hoping a new voice would freshen things up. This result is a set that has moments of real gusto – not something you can always say about a band in their 21st year together.
The album is bookended by two of its best moments. Opener If You Really Love Nothing is a drivetime rocker that asserts Sam Fogarino as still one of the most propulsive drummers in the game. Banks’s lyrics, eternally oblique, cover a decaying relationship with a sharpness not always present in his writing (“If you really love nothing/ Do we wait in silent glory,” he cries). Final track It Probably Matters picks up the theme again. Here, Banks tunes his voice to a desperate tremble. The music chugs along poignantly and the singer sounds spiritually worn out. “I tried to be a faithful man,” he yearns, “I tried to hide a taste for the anger.” It’s a moment of real, open-chest emotion that once came so naturally to Interpol.
Southern guitar lick
Stay In Touch, meanwhile, opens with a mucky Southern guitar lick that will catch the ear of outlaws everywhere. From that unusual base, a prominent bassline presses down and the drums are forcefully thrashed. The song is racked with a beautiful tension that’s difficult to shake.
Yet there’s the thin line between recapturing the old magic and unsuccessfully rehashing past successes. Surveillance rides the kind of guitar line that Interpol have deployed over the years ad nauseam. Other decisions are plain difficult to understand. Mountain Child is sloppily arranged, underpinned by Daniel Kessler and Banks’s grating axe work. Lines such as “Mountain child you are my queen in white/ Won’t you come along with me” might be funny, but they probably should have been left in Banks’s notebook.
Most of Marauder is perfectly well made Interpol music, though. If you were being really generous you could throw that criticism cliche “return to form” on El Pintor and, now, this latest record, as the band have successfully made mostly likeable music with occasional moments that prove that the three veterans can still be kings for a day. But I still wouldn’t swap my Antics CD for the best 10 or 11 tracks from their last four albums. Beautiful, beautiful Antics.