Are Interpol the Steve Forbert of postpunk revival acts? (See www.nerdmagazine.org/forbert.html.) Are they, as The New York Times would have it, the beginning of the end of the New York rock underground? Is Matador the Steve Forbert of indie rock labels? Will Interpol teach us to dance again? Are Interpol and the Strokes the Stray Cats of a new era? (Loved the Stray Cats, by the way. And the Polecats! In fact, Jack White could do a helluva cover of their “Make a Circuit With Me”: “Diode, cathode, electrode, overload, generator, oscillator/make a circuit with me!”) Do I prefer the postpunkatronicacore of the Doves over Interpol? Probably not. No. Maybe. Perhaps. I don’t see why not. Yes.
But first of all, my choice for post-pre-punk cowpunk act of the year is the Dixie Chicks. “Long Time Gone” takes the pre-punk punk energy of bluegrass and infuses it with a postpunk lyrical delivery that is matchless, peerless, and so artful as to render the artless among us speechless. (Remember the old saw: If you put 100 undergrads who can’t play a lick in a room with 100 instruments for 100 days, you get a postpunk electro underground revival every time.) Now if I could just get Natalie and the girls to sing “Sex Beat” by the Gun Club. “I, I know your reasons/and I, I know your goals/we can fuck forever/but you can never get my soul!” Yikes, I think I just wet myself. (And don’t get me started on Shakira. She’s so Lene, I Lovich! The post-Nina Hagen preprandial corn muffin we’ve been starved for.)
If the Strokes and Interpol remind me of anyone, though, it would have to be forgotten ’80s sailor-core combo Roman Holiday. They, like the Strokes and Interpol, used retro tunes and snazzy duds to re-invigorate rudderless music scenes: in Roman Holiday’s case, the wonders of doo-wop and Broadway show tunes; in the Strokes’, five-year-old Britpop tunes and the wonders of the bygone Madchester scene of Inspiral Carpets and Ride. And Interpol? Why, they’re just the cutest li’l things to come down the Hudson since the Dutch and their adorable shoes. And if they remind people of a band like Joy Division, a group that combined the spirit and energy of U.K. punk with the art-rock futurism of Bowie/Eno/Stooges, well, there’s a reason for that. They’re trying to.
If you listen to “Untitled,” the first track on their debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, squint your eyes, stand on one leg, cover an ear, and pretend that the bass, vocals, and tune are better than they are, you’ll even swear you’re hearing Joy Division. But that song is really just a snippet—an unfinished idea, or perhaps just an extended intro.
The first proper song, “Obstacle 1,” is more confusing but also more interesting. Confusing because it starts out sounding like that Chili Peppers song all over the radio that goes “standing in line at the movie show with a monkey, heavy load,” or something, but then it switches to the famous guitar intro from “Marquee Moon” by Television. What makes this confusing is that I love the TV song but I hate the Peppers song, so I don’t know what to feel. Plus, I keep thinking the singer dude is gonna break into that Pixies song that goes, “Is she weird, is she white, is she promised to the night?” . . . but he doesn’t. Black Francis was a great goth lyricist, and this guy’s good too—like, there’s something about getting stabbed in the neck. All Interpol songs have some cool one-liner or meaningless non sequitur that’s good for a laugh.
“NYC,” their best song by far, has the great line “Subway she is a porno” that also sounds like Black Francis in his old fake-Mexican role. “NYC” is the reason I bought the album, because when I heard it I thought it was such a stunningly beautiful thing. It sounds exactly like a lost Kitchens of Distinction epic, and it’s worthy of being in a CSI autopsy scene (although Sigur Rós’s would be hard to beat). Or at the very least background music for a cool HBO perils-of-heroin documentary.
“PDA” opens like “This Charming Man,” which is charming when you think about it. We need more Smiths enthusiasts, if only to take back the ’80s from R.E.M. and U2. (One of the benefits of retro-rock is that it helps determine which sounds are worth keeping around and which ones need to be forgotten.) And it ends with a coda that sounds like the Chameleons song “Nostalgia”! Are Interpol cheeky, or what?
“Say Hello to the Angels” starts off like one of those other cowpoke Smiths songs, then proceeds to sound like every Smiths song all at once. Kind of a greatest-hits homage in one tune. It also sounds like the singer is saying “Move into my assface,” which I don’t think even Morrissey could get away with. (He also says “This is a concept.” Which makes sense.)
“Hands Away” is pretty, like a Simple Minds B side from around the time of Sister Feelings Call. But again, it’s just a snippet. Not really a song.
“Obstacle 2” sounds like what I like to call “post-Interpol” music. It’s what the singer’s album will sound like after Interpol breaks up and he starts a new band called Scotland Yard. All their retro tricks in one track!
“Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” is more Chameleons, and really good Chameleons! (Though, well, it was all good, wasn’t it? Jeez, you guys own all the Chame-leons records, don’t you? No?? Well, whuddya waiting for? And buy those reissues of the first three records by the Sound while you’re at it. And Section 25, too! Although they might be harder to find. I could tape you what I have.)
I think Interpol are my new favorite New York rock underground band. “Roland” is great—it actually deserves the Joy Division comparison. Or hell, even a Bauhaus comparison. How many bands in 2002 are even as good as Bauhaus were? How about: none! Well, there is my beloved Katatonia, whose last three (!) albums were better than any rainydaysandmondaysgetmedownadelica you could mention. (And in fact they’re my favorite band, but technically they’re metal and not on Thrill Jockey, so you probably haven’t heard them because metal is a ghetto and we like it that way so stay the fuck out if you’re just gonna gawk, stupid Spin magazine. I’ll give you a metal issue—right in your smug snoot!)
Anyway, Interpol are tops! For this week, anyway. And no matter what happens to them in the future, they’ll always have “NYC” to hang their skinny ties on. If I like them because they remind me of eating bad bathtub mescaline in the woods and listening to Cure singles, well, that’ll do. You might like them for completely different reasons.