Monday 19 March 2018

Same town, new story for Interpol

Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks and Sam Fogarino make up the current Interpol line-up
Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks and Sam Fogarino make up the current Interpol line-up
Interpol in past years
John Meagher

John Meagher

When a band chooses to release a self-titled album several years into their recording career, it usually signals a desire to reinvent themselves, to start anew. Interpol's fourth album, from 2010, was their eponymous release but if they were hoping to rediscover past glories, they were to be sorely disappointed.

Among the slew of lukewarm reviews, American webzine Spin got to the heart of the matter when it judged the album "both strangely distant and overly familiar - like a band struggling to remember who they are". Within a few months of its release, it was announced that founding member and bassist Carlos Denger, had quit. It turned out to be a fractious departure.

To the outsider, it looked like Interpol were a spent force, a pale shadow of the quartet who had emerged from New York's fertile scene in the early 2000s and thrilled, thanks to music that was heavily indebted to the city's post-punk movement of a quarter-century before. It hadn't helped that their third album, Our Love to Admire, was a decidedly bloated effort that seemed to catch the band in a rut.

So when they regrouped (as a trio) and released El Pintor last year, only the most optimistic Interpol fan thought they might be able to arrest the decline. And yet they did - spectacularly. With an album title that translates from the Spanish as 'the painter' and is also an anagram of Interpol, Paul Banks, Daniel Kessler and Sam Fogarino managed to tap into the wellspring that made their first and second albums so special.

Crucially though, they didn't need to slavishly follow the template of their early work: here were a batch of new songs that were urgent, pulsating and lean. At a shade under 40 minutes, it was their shortest album too.

It wouldn't be the first time that a band in the creative doldrums went on hiatus and came back much stronger.

For most, the Interpol story began in the summer of 2002 when they released their debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights, one of that year's most sublime records. A dark, brooding record that reminded many of Joy Division - not least because of Banks's starkly monochrome vocals - the album managed to be both mysterious and alluring (much like the album's intriguing cover art). It came less than 12 months after The Strokes had made NYC the coolest place on the planet thanks to their arresting debut. But unlike that band's thrift-store choice of clothing, Interpol stood out with their perfectly cut suits, slicked hair and shades.

A review from their debut Irish gig in Dublin's Spirit (now The Academy) that October noted their "icy detachment" and a strong performance that hinted "at the snapping tension of Magazine and the vulnerability of The Wedding Present". The venue was far from full that night, but they were packing them a couple of years later when their muscular follow-up, Antics, made them, briefly, contenders for a major breakthrough.

The Guardian captured their sense of supreme self-confidence from an "immeasurably thrilling" show at London's ICA venue: "What you sense is the electrifying confidence of a band who believe absolutely in the power of their own songs."

Sustaining such a run of critical success was always going to be difficult and the band came aground with Our Love to Admire.

And yet, Paul Banks had a surprise up his sleeve when he released a solo album, Skyscraper, under a moniker (Julian Plenti) that he had used long before Interpol came into being. Despite being Interpol's frontman, it's Daniel Kessler who is responsible for penning the lion's share of the songs, so it was something of a relief to Banks' admirers that he was no slouch in the compositional department either.

A long-term relationship with the Danish model Helena Christensen helped bring Banks into Bono's radar and he has been known to be a guest at the U2 man's palatial Dublin home. "He is somebody who's inspiring to be around," Banks told me in an interview a couple of years ago. "He's a very intelligent man and conversation with him is never dull. He's also a great rock star, and has stayed relevant for a very long time." His regard for the Dubliner was no doubt helped that Interpol were given support slots on U2's most recent stadium tour.

Bono has been nursing his badly broken arm of late, but few will be surprised if he's spotted at Interpol's trio of Dublin shows next week. Two of the Olympia dates are sold out but a limited number of tickets are available for the gig on Wednesday.

* Macy Gray was set to play her first Irish concert in years on Thursday, but MCD have announced that the Academy, Dublin gig has been postponed due to "unforeseen circumstances". The promoter says it's hoped the American soul singer, famed for the massive turn-of-the-century hit 'I Try', can be rescheduled for later in the year.

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