Turn On the Bright Lights – Interpol ★★★½

2002Turn On the Bright LightsInterpol★★★½74RockAlternative RockPost Punk Revival

It’s nice when you can pinpoint the birth — or revival — of a genre. Interpol’s debut Turn On the Bright Lights might not have technically been the first Post Punk Revival record, but it started a run by numerous indie acts that brought the genre to prominence through the late 2000. You can hear Interpol’s driving drums, rhythmic strumming and sometimes layered guitarwork in a lot of other band’s records.

However, Turn On the Bright Lights doesn’t sound quite like many of the other albums of the genre that followed it. Interpol’s songs are darker, more serious sounding — even emotionally desperate or on edge at times — than most of the upbeat, warm, somewhat poppy choruses found in works by Bloc Party, The Killers, and even the Arctic Monkeys. 

There’s a cold, melancholic atmosphere and tension that’s felt throughout the album. Paul Banks’ effective flat, sometimes monotone vocals definitely add to that feeling of desperation, and are something that give Interpol a distinct sound. Same goes for the sparse production with disonent, staccato, hypnotically repetitive riffs, and muted drum hits that make you feel lost or alone and can be found on all of their records over the next two decades. 

Interpol also draws more from 90s’ shoegaze acts than most other bands in the genre, which helps the band juxtapose the alienating, unfriendly sections with lush choruses and layered outro sections on tracks like “PDA,” Obstacle 1” and “Roland.”  Not every song has a wall of dense guitar sounds, but the few slower tracks like “Untitled,” “NYC,” and “Hands Away” have shoegaze’s unmistakable whaling guitars and sustains in the distance. Interpol themselves move farther and farther away from it over time, except on select tracks, but that element adds to this album’s depth and does make it stand out from the crowd.

Turn On the Bright Lights is by no means a perfect album. With how distinct Interpol might be, it does make their songs all sound pretty repetitive. It’s almost all one energy level, all a similar style and tempo, and lacks any sort of real warmth. That narrow focus— while creating a really consistent vibe and sound — makes the album drag, especially near the end, and does make it lack some of the variety and creativity of its imitators. And Bank’s delivery and sometimes nonsensical lyrics make it hard to grasp onto many hooks.  

But, Turn On the Bright Lights is undoubtedly a good record, and is as pioneering as a record can be that clearly draws influences from music 10 and 20 plus years before it —  from Joy Division, Television’s Marquee Moon and even the Pixies. Here, Interpol was able to shape alternative rock for years, and allowed countless other bands to build off the groundwork they laid.

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