Turn on the Bright Lights – Interpol (2002)

Turn on the Bright Lights album cover
Turn on the Bright Lights album cover

My first exposure to Interpol came via radio. This time it was streamed on the internet as I listened to my teen era favorite station WUAG in Greensboro. It was a retro kind of sound, but with contemporary angst. Despite being on my porch with a tablet, I was reminded of  the excitement I once experienced when hearing great new music on the radio.

It seemed fitting to discover Interpol this way. A mix of old with the new is the best way to sum up the New York City based band. The Iggy Pop-like “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” was one of a few songs from Turn on the Bright Lights that college radio stations were playing in heavy rotation during the Fall of 2002.

While any number of bands from the last three decades could claim to have inspired Interpol, they were original in how they seemed to package the cool of the indie rock scene with the muscular rhythmic nature of good old boy arena rock. They managed to do this all while keeping it slightly familiar sounding in tone to Joy Division, Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths and a half dozen others.

Paul Banks the band’s lead vocalist’s had a nasal singing style that was generically dark and ominous sounding like so many English bands new wave bands from 30 years ago. Even though the songs were simple and writing credits were shared by the quintet, the band’s debut Turn On the Bright Lights sounded fully baked stylistically.

Most of the songs were mid tempo in nature and sometimes built up to a dramatic end, a formula the band would use for most of its discography. Recorded in a way that could sound coulstophibic and at times expansive, most of the songs had a kind of immediacy to them, thanks to simple arrangements centered around drum, bass and guitars with the occasional synthesizer.

A distinctive staccato bass style separates the band from any of their influences, giving many songs, even the few slow ones a kind of rhythmic energy.

That energy is heard at its finest in the very Smiths sounding “” or in the bouncy bass-lines of the opening untitled track. For 2002, Interpol was certainly a breath of fresh air in the indie-rock scene. The band was low key in that they were never the subject of Extra exposes or gossip papers. The band itself was not seen on TV often beyond their music videos.

The most important legacy may have been the shot in the arm to the alpha male trenchcoat scene that was dying with the Matrix film franchise. While some detractors were quick to dismiss the band as a novelty act, they would quickly gain the respect of critics to become the best new band of 2002 by most accounts. Some journalist even calling  Turn on the Bright Lights the young decade’s best album.

The band did not disappoint with each new recording, although a major style adjustment was made with 2007’s Our Love to Admire, they still manage critical and commercial success, with more of the latter as they progressed.



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