It doesn’t take long into listening to Interpol’s newest record, “El Pintor,” to realize that the band hasn’t been joking around about this being a “return to form” record. While the band’s sound has never sharply deviated from the brooding, post-punk revivalist style that it helped usher in at the turn of the century, on this album, the group has a resounding and unifying sense of urgency.
Prior to this album, the group had gone through some angst, turmoil and a lull in critical and commercial success. The band’s 2002 debut “Turn on the Bright Lights” was one of the most-heralded debut albums ever in rock music and was named to many top-albums-of-the-2000s lists. Its follow-up, “Antics,” was also well-received.
But subsequent efforts found fans and critics alike lambasting Interpol for succumbing to pretension and monotony, and bassist Carlos Dengler left after the production of the band’s self-titled 2010 effort. As such, frontman Paul Banks has been promising fans and the media that “El Pintor” (interestingly both an anagram for the band’s name and a Spanish word meaning “the painter”) would be a strong bounce-back record.
Moving, stadium-rocky opener “All the Rage Back Home” immediately delivers on his promise. The blaring organ heard at the beginning of the song in conjunction with Banks’ gorgeous vocals — which are as good as they’ve been in recent memory — work to start off a haunting and engaging tune.
The song just gets better from this point on. Banks’ lyrics are unsurprisingly enigmatic, but they fit the chiming, dueling guitar tones and pulsating, precise drumming of Sam Fogarino during the chorus. This chorus of “I keep falling, maybe half the time / maybe half the time” builds a real sense of vertigo in the listener.
And if that wasn’t enough, “All the Rage Back Home” just serves as a prelude for this album’s strengths. Frenetic energy, intricate and layered production, stronger and sweeter vocals, and superb timekeeping from Fogarino mix to recreate what we loved so much about this band’s mysterious post-punk sound when we first discovered it on “Turn on the Bright Lights.”
The second song on the album, “My Desire,” is a sulking, surreptitious and suspicion-inducing number, and the next one, “Anywhere,” is a fierce song which has a bassline that shows the listener Interpol can go on without Dengler as the beloved bassist. “Same Town, New Story” and “My Blue Supreme” highlight some of the album’s engrossing “wall of sound” production and Banks’ lovely falsetto. “Everything is Wrong,” one of the stronger songs to be found here, features a U2ish (perhaps opening up for them in 2010 rubbed off) meld of chiming, intense guitar interplay and droll, Morrissey-like lyrics fretting about how “everything is wrong.”
But the album’s most memorable lyric — and perhaps its most memorable moment — comes on its eighth track, and the band’s current single, “Ancient Ways.” The song opens with a feisty lyric that can’t be printed here, but it arouses the attention and stirs the senses of the listener. Even though this is the shortest song on the album, it makes the most out of three minutes with a lyrical and musical fierceness that’s similar to that of Billy Corgan’s circa-1994 Smashing Pumpkins.
“Tidal Wave” is a more ambitious and grandiose song that, again, replicates a metaphysical feeling of an approaching tidal wave with singer Banks’ itinerant chanting and ominous orchestration.
This is, all in all, an outstanding record. It is one of the band’s finest collections of songs, no doubt, and this is coming from someone who worships the ground that Banks and company walk on.