On Interpol’s Our Love to Admire

The third album by Interpol, Our Love to Admire, came out this week. I’ve been listening to an advance CD of it for a week or so, and I’ve been a little taken aback by how different my response to the album has been than that of Pitchfork and Tiny Mix Tapes.

They savaged it, particularly TMT, whose critic took Paul Banks to task for writing songs about having his feelings hurt by self-absorbed actresses, pleading for a threesome, and giving up drugs for a day to better screw a young groupie. As if this isn’t exactly the kind of self-centered, narcissistic prattle we expect from our decadent neo-new wave rawk stars. What did you expect, a chapter-by-chapter explication of the Critique of Pure Reason? You might as well criticize a gang of cats for mewing.

These reviewers also panned the music, hearing it as rote and formulaic, as if the band should suddenly give up the single-string guitar riffs that are their trademark and start doling out, I dunno, salsa or some such shit.

My own reaction to Our Love to Admire has been similar to my immediate response to Radiohead’s OK Computer. Not because the albums sound anything alike, but rather because as soon as I’d finished listening to Our Love once, I immediately put it on again — and found myself second-guessing my own reactions to what I was hearing: was this really as good as it seems on the initial listen?

Is it as fresh as Turn on the Bright Lights? Of course not, and it’s unfair to expect that. But it does have moments both more sophisticated and more surprising than that record, and to my ears it’s not as monochromatic as Antics was. It doesn’t rock, exactly, but it certainly moves.

So, yes, it’s true that Paul Banks’ lyrics haven’t improved one whit. Five years ago he was singing about 200 couches and subways that were pornos, and he hasn’t become any more transparent. But his vocals sound great, and that gets it over no matter what he’s saying. Just like be-bop-a-lula or surfin’ bird, if you’re hunting for meaning you might be listening to the wrong thing.

Particularly amusing is Pitchfork’s rote assertion that this, the group’s major-label bow, constitutes some kind of move toward mass commercial appeal. Like hell. The band has an appealing sound, and they’re just continuing to do what they’ve been doing since day one. If this record goes platinum I’ll be stunned. If Our Love is some sort of bid for wider acceptance, it’s a pretty far fucking cry from that of labelmate and fellow former Matador artist Liz Phair, whose work on Capitol — while successful in commercial terms, sorta — outright repudiated her earlier, earthier records. In contrast, Interpol is simply delivering the goods. I hope they can keep doing it this well for another couple of records.

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