I stated when I started this particular feature that this would feature all sorts of stuff, new albums, radio sessions, and classic albums i’ve been revisiting. This weeks column is the first example of the latter.
To revisit an album you know so well can be a highly cathartic experience. The opening note alone of albums like 100 Hundred Broken Windows by Idlewild or The Nationals Boxer is enough to bring memories flooding back. Be it the sweaty, crush of your first gig or the mix of pride and loss of seeing a band you’ve seen since the start floorish on a larger stage, music is a time machine like very few other mediums.
This weeks album of choice is one loaded with emotions and angst, it transports me back to my formative years and to one particular sticky little underground hole in a shopping centre, but we’ll get to that shortly…without further ado
INTERPOL – TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS
When pressed to name the greatest album of all I time, I generally stutter and stumble my way towards little or no conclusion. What makes a great album? Do we look to the technical brilliance and originality of a record like Radiohead’s Kid A? Or perhaps the energy & fizz of a record like White Blood Cells the best thing The White Stripes ever put to record. What of albums that pre-date us like The Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks or either of Joy Division’s stunning albums. Ultimately by the time I’ve come even close to a decision most people have wandered off and left the “distant” guy in the corner to his own thoughts. However if pushed, prodded, kicked and put under the threat of death if a decision isn’t come to, I think the one I most commonly stumble upon as an answer is Turn On The Bright Lights.
Why you ask? Well for starters the perfect combination of timing, energy, emotional input, relation to my own experience and effortless cool. In other words few records tick as many boxes as this one does! Ultimately the way music sounds is just another factor in what it means to you, a very important one, but just a factor none the less. So from here in forgive my self indulgence because you’re about to get my Interpol story…
The year is 2002, you find me a slightly confused 17 year old on the back end of a metal stage that I was never truly committed to. I read the NME, I go to Reading Festival every year, I try to get to gigs in Bristol if I can get a lift off someone, a lift off anyone. I read the NME, this is important, this is what defines me. I’ve just seen The Strokes headline their first UK festival, I’ve also seen a little band called The White Stripes halfway up the bill. I saw Puddle Of Mud too I fell asleep standing up. When you’re 17 going to sleep is about the least cool thing in the world, I spend most of a festival weekend desperately trying to be that guy who stays up the whole time, I don’t want to miss anything after all! This is who I am… I am not despite what I think in anyway cool.
On the 23rd of October, The NME gives away a free CD, this is the CD that to my mind shapes my generation. This is the CD that blows away the back end of Brit Pop and starts a revolution! This is our Punk Rock kills Prog moment, this is our Sex Pistols, this is our Nirvana. In reality this is The Datsuns, Radio 4 & The Music. At the time this is the greatest thing in existence, I genuinely believe this is going to be worth thousands of pounds one day. It is not, I am mistaken.
What that CD is though is an accurate snap shot of the time. It is a lot of garage rock bands being garage rock bands. It has some superb bands on it. The likes of The Cooper Temple Clause, Ikara Colt & Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are still more than worth listening to. Burning Brides, The D4 & The Beatings you’d probably struggle to be able to listen to.
Two songs leap out of the CD at my ears, one is a slice of Beach Boysesque sunshine-pop that I still genuinely think is brilliant to this day, it’s called “Santa Cruz You’re Not That Far” and it’s by The Thrills. The Thrills don’t live up to hype, being not cool it’ll take me a while, one album and one green Thrills t-shirt to realise they don’t live up to the hype. The other track is a 6 minute long track that is anything but sunshine. It’s gloomy, claustrophic and brilliant. The bass is higher in the mix than any bass has ever been, the drums have the same kick at The Strokes at half the speed, the guitars are chiming but jarring and disturbing, and then there’s that voice! This isn’t a rock singer, this isn’t some aloof pretty boy in a leather jacket, this is an intense, urgent, troubled sounding man. This is a track called The Specialist by Interpol and this will change my life, it my head it might even save it but I was a teenager I was prone to thinking things would save my life…
Interesting fact fans, both bands I loved on the NME New Rock Revolution CD went on to also appear on The O.C Volume 2, another era defining compilation that took itself a tad less seriously!
From then I was hooked, I needed this band in my life, I got a job in a supermarket pretty much so I could buy Turn On The Bright Lights. Well that may be an exaggeration but it was a big part of the decision making process. The Specialist remains one of my favourite Interpol songs but it didn’t even make the cut for TOTBL. What I got was 11 more slabs of perfectly formed gloom rock (Is that a genre? It should be!) I no longer wanted a leather jacket, I wanted a trench coat and a smart suit. I even wanted a trilby, I’m not sure Paul Banks ever wore a trilby but it seemed like something he might wear.
I went to Uni the following year, praying there might be like minded individual who also loved Interpol. On arrival in became very apparent that amongst 18 year old men in 2004 there was little more common than being an Interpol fan. Everyone loved them they were our generations torch bearers for the independent music scene. We would scrabble to club nights and dance to Interpol, if you can call it dancing it was more screaming and bouncing, and angsting, we did a lot of angsting. We’d come out of clubs like The Cockpit and The Bassment and judge a night on how many Interpol songs they’d played. “Was the music good?” “Yeah they played five Interpol Songs”
Through Interpol we discovered other bands. We found their influences! One of the great criticisms of Interpol was the oft thrown around comparison with Joy Division. I’m not going to stand here and claim they sound nothing like each other. They do, they share a mood and to an extent a sound. But to label them mere copyists as some would was wrong. They were drenched in a very British 80s sound but bands like The Chameleons and Echo & The Bunnymen were just as accurate a comparison. More than that Interpol sounded like Interpol at a time when nobody else did. Laterly bands like Editors & White Lies would follow a similar path with varying degrees of success, but to my ears none topped TOTBL, something Interpol themselves have never topped either.
We now stand eleven years later, my beautiful new vinyl copy recently arrived. I put it on the record player just before my housemates got home. The first thing they both say as they enter the house “I love this album” it’s aged yes but it’s still a stunner.
Listening to it with fresh ears new things hit me. Firstly what a bizarre and bold opening track “Untitled” is! An 82 second long instrumental intro, all pounding drums and interwoven guitars and that ever prominent bass. Till finally Paul opens his mouth with what is essentially the only lyric of the song, the repeated line “I will surprise you sometime, i’ll come around” with or without the killer final words “when you’re down” it then ends with an equally long instrumental outro. Despite it’s simplicity an atmosphere is already in place that doesn’t leave throughout the album. It’s a deeply claustrophobic listen, it engulfs you and puts you on edge. It has much the same affect as a tense film such as “We Need To Talk About Kevin” if you really listen to the album it’s emotionally exhausting.
Lyrical themes of unhappy relationships and his inability to leave them behind weave throughout the album be it PDA’s claim that “now there is this distance” or The New’s heart breaking line “I can’t pretend I don’t need to defend some part of me from you”. It could almost be mistaken for a break-up album while in reality it’s the opposite. It’s an album that’s largely about being trapped and unhappy in a relationship, there’s often implications of abuse and murderous tendencies, but they largely seem to be in his head, be it the beautiful “Say Hello To The Angels” or his ability to relate to serial killers as expressed in Roland where “he severed segments and secretly like it” as “he was growing on me”.
Such a complete album as this can make it very difficult for individual tracks to stand out and indeed it’s a record where my favourite track fluctuates almost on every listen. The stunning ode to Paul’s home town NYC leaps out as it serves as something of a break, it’s both a drop in tempo and a note of optimism that “New York cares”.
Obstacle 2 is perhaps the albums most immediate moment. Even if it is a deeply unhappy ode to drinking your way through an unhappy relationship (sample lyric “i’ll stand by all this drinking if it get’s me through the day’)
Ultimately I’d urge everyone to find their own moments of brilliance in an album that’s full of them, it unfurls gently and over time. It needs listen after listen. 11 years into it’s existence and there’s still something fresh and new to discover on every listen, put simply it’s as close as anything gets to being the greatest record of all time (well it does this week anyway)