You know what the '80s sounded like? Journey, Men at Work,and Lionel freakin' Richie, that's what. So can we all please stopsquealing "It's so '80s!" whenever we hear a campy new song that evenslightly evokes the Human League, Depeche Mode, or the Cure? Because,let's face it-thanks to a host of revivalist new acts, the cramped,synth-soaked sound that those bands specialized in is retro-hip today,but it hardly represented the status quo back in the Reagan era.
Whatthat much-misremembered decade did offer, in spades, was Big,Inspirational Rock Music. Simple Minds up on the catwalk. Bono lettingloose a yelp of unity while humping a flagpole at Red Rocks. BigCountry in a big country. Songs that evoked wide-open spaces, notdrippy Paris Métro tunnels. Songs that aimed for the stratosphereinstead of wallowing in atmosphere. Songs, in short, that soundednothing like Interpol.
When the New York City quartet debuted two years ago withTurn on the Bright Lights, it was easy to dismiss them as a bunch ofempty suits. Despite some good tunes, quietly ingenious production, andlyrics rich in natty dread, Interpol were basically repainting onesmall corner of the '80s, taking their urban-hipster ennui (and singerPaul Banks' uncanny vocal resemblance to Ian Curtis) as an excuse totrace Joy Division's dour playbook.
But a funny thing happened on the way to hanging themselveson their own rope-Interpol discovered choruses. And not choruses likethe ones they offered on their first LP, which were basicallyimpassioned lyrics over the same jittery grooves the band had beenraving up during the rest of each song. No, these are choruses thatSimple Minds' Jim Kerr would have sung proudly, his headband gray withperspiration and his mesh shirt stuck to his chest.
"Evil" starts off with a quiet bass figure, before movinginto a bridge where Banks tells a girl named Rosemary that she's got agreat smile. Then there's a pause, a couple of chopped guitar chords,and the band launches into a mother-of-Jesus epic chorus, complete withstrings. "San-DEE, why can't we look the other way?" Banks gasps. Ihave no idea why he's suddenly addressing a different special lady, butI'll bet even the woman he later describes in the same song as"weightless, semi-erotic" is impressed.
"Not Even Jail" and "Take You on a Cruise" actually seemlike they could be enjoyed by people who don't know where the L traingoes, and that's why Antics is so much more fun than Turn on the BrightLights. For a guy who looks like his strongest opinions are abouttop-shelf vodkas and single-needle tailoring, Banks has created aromantic persona worthy of Bryan Ferry: a shabbily chic Everyman wholaughingly calls himself "timeless like a broken watch," a cad who's a"scavenger between the sheets of union."
The Interpol formula does grate a bit toward the end of therecord (though "Public Pervert" is undeniably the best song title). Theband still do plenty of the moody stuff that gave the first recordwhatever resonance it had, but now they offset the minor-key gloom withmajor-scale melodies. "Narc" pulls off this trick, and so does "A Timeto Be So Small." There's also some air in the arrangements-the albumfeels confident and spacious where Bright Lights felt claustrophobic.
"I will bounce you on the lap of silence," Banks sings on"Not Even Jail." "We will freeload to the beats of science / And girl,you shake it right." Coming from a guy who considers "Let's tend to theengine tonight" a come-hither line, this is a sign that his moment onthe catwalk has arrived.