Interpol Remain Locked in the Same Groove on 'The Other Side of Make-Believe'

BY Bruno CoulombePublished Jul 14, 2022

For more than a decade, Interpol have been stuck in a sort of medium mood. Unable to live up to the hype of their classic debut, 2002's Turn On the Bright Lights, they've retreated into a safe midtempo zone, content with simply updating their post-punk recipe. Although more satisfying than 2018's Marauder, their seventh LP The Other Side of Make-Believe does very little to shake the impression of a band whose glory days are way behind.

It's not like they aren't trying. As with Marauder, on which they worked with Dave Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, MGMT), Interpol have teamed up with a new producer to try to stir things up. If Fridmann's experience was so-so at best, with a mix so compressed that it made the band sound as if trapped in a box, Flood (Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Sigur Rós) brings some interesting elements to The Other Side of Make-Believe.

The most refreshing aspect of this new album is Paul Banks's voice, which exudes a newfound vulnerability. The band have credited Flood and co-producer Alan Moulder for encouraging them to not always go for "big and loud," and it worked well for the vocals. On lead single "Toni," Banks's more subdued tone makes confident lines like "Still in shape, my methods refined" come through with self-assured modesty. Meanwhile, his baritone in "Something Changed" invites comparisons to the National's Matt Berninger.

Yet, the album suffers from redundancy, with the majority of the songs operating in the same mood. Of course, it has to do with the tempo, which doesn't deviate a lot from the 70–90 beats per minute range, but it's also related to the level of energy, which appears particularly low here. It's most noticeable when they change things up: the faster-paced "Renegade Hearts" is one of the few songs to break the mould by injecting some much-needed dynamic shifts midway into the record, as does "Gran Hotel" towards the end.

Interpol have always relied heavily on the signature licks of guitarist Daniel Kessler, and their new album is no exception. With his eight-note leads and slightly distorted tone, Kessler created one of the most recognizable guitar sounds in modern indie rock. Without being the most memorable, the riffs on The Other Side of Make-Believe still do justice to his legacy. The repeated notes of "Fables" echo a beloved classic like "Obstacle 1," while the syncopated strumming of "Big Shot City" brings in a nice funky element.

Unfortunately, there are other numbers that ride out the same pattern far longer than necessary. The riff of "Into the Night" is particularly predictable with the same series of arpeggios going on for five minutes. The duo of "Passenger" and "Greenwich" also feels a bit redundant, despite the steady and solid play of drummer Sam Fogarino.

When they emerged in the early 2000s, Interpol were praised as part of New York's rock 'n' roll renaissance (captured by Lizzy Goodman in her 2017 book Meet Me in the Bathroom). Released in 2002, Turn On the Bright Lights was a vivid evocation of post-9/11 urban decay in NYC, the band's birthplace. With its loose theme about the slipperiness of truth in the age of fake news, The Other Side of Make-Believe also had the potential to capture something of its era. Yet, without a sufficient provision of good songs to back it up, the album's resonance tends to get blurred. The result is a fine record, but one that ultimately fails to leave a mark.
(Matador Records)

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