It’s never easy following up an album like Interpol‘s debut, Turn on the Bright Lights. The subject of nearly universal critical acclaim in 2002, it pushed the band up to indie rock stardom early in their career. I’m no exception—it was one of my favorite discs that year, so much so that it prompted me to purchase a vinyl version for home listening in addition to the CD copy for in-car listening. But after endless touring, tour diaries documenting debauchery and a steady stream of singles, the pressure seemed to slowly mount for the group’s path forward.
With that in mind, I approached Antics, the band’s sophomore album, with caution. So imagine my shock when I heard a stunning collection of music that sounded as fresh and alive as the haunted post-punk these four young New Yorkers made two years ago on Bright Lights. Their frequent comparisons to Joy Division seem to have subsided, though the band hasn’t drifted far away from their trademark sound. The most Joy Division-esque aspect of the band was Paul Banks’ voice, which still sounds as dark and morose as Ian Curtis’ low bellow. But Antics isn’t a carbon copy of Closer.
The shoegaze guitars and dramatic breaks still have a full-time position in Interpol’s songs, though major keys and even a bit of danceability have found their way on to Antics. Imagine Franz Ferdinand as bummed Americans and you’re not too far off the mark. First single “Slow Hands” even sounds a bit like “Darts of Pleasure” swathed in melancholy. Though Interpol were never strangers to catchy choruses, “Slow Hands” seems more at home on the dancefloor than any of the band’s previous work and gives insight, subtle as it may be, into the direction that the band may be going.
There are plenty of drone-heavy songs, like opener “Next Exit” and “Not Even Jail,” though even these differ in many ways than a track like “NYC.” “Next Exit,” for one, sounds almost hopeful and positive as Banks sings “We’re gonna trek this shit around” over an atypically major key melody. “Not Even Jail” features a pounding drum beat that would fit in comfortably alongside Coldplay’s “Clocks,” Doves’ “Pounding” or Snow Patrol’s “Chocolate.” The guitars chime and hum as usual, though in the context of the epic structure and the steady beat, they manage to sound more powerful and majestic.
The best moments on the record are often the most direct. “Slow Hands” is an instant classic, as is “Evil,” which offers more singalong goodness and upbeat melodies. Any remnants of Joy Division that may have remained are demolished on “Evil” and replaced with some decidedly more joyous influences. But “Length of Love” is a true surprise, a more straight-up rock ‘n’ roll track that falls somewhere between Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Clinic. It bounces and squeals courtesy of some moody organ, but mostly it just rocks.
One thing that remains the same for Interpol is the lack of excess. Not so much a band of showboats as a proper unit, Interpol combines the talents of all players into a lush broth of melody. The initial shock of hearing Turn on the Bright Lights is gone, unfortunately, but with Antics, Interpol has created a stunning second chapter in what could be an unstoppable body of work.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.