Interpol, 'Antics' (Matador)

8
Antics
Critical Mass
Label: Matador

by Andrew Beaujon

You know what the '80s sounded like? Journey, Men at Work, and Lionel freakin' Richie, that's what. So can we all please stop squealing "It's so '80s!" whenever we hear a campy new song that even slightly 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. What that much-misremembered decade did offer, in spades, was Big, Inspirational Rock Music. Simple Minds up on the catwalk. Bono letting loose a yelp of unity while humping a flagpole at Red Rocks. Big Country in a big country. Songs that evoked wide-open spaces, not drippy Paris Métro tunnels. Songs that aimed for the stratosphere instead of wallowing in atmosphere. Songs, in short, that sounded nothing like Interpol.

When the New York City quartet debuted two years ago with Turn on the Bright Lights, it was easy to dismiss them as a bunch of empty suits. Despite some good tunes, quietly ingenious production, and lyrics rich in natty dread, Interpol were basically repainting one small corner of the '80s, taking their urban-hipster ennui(and singer Paul Banks' uncanny vocal resemblance to Ian Curtis) as an excuse to trace Joy Division's dour playbook.

But a funny thing happened on the way to hanging themselves on their own rope-Interpol discovered choruses. And not choruses like the ones they offered on their first LP, which were basically impassioned lyrics over the same jittery grooves the band had been raving up during the rest of each song. No, these are choruses that Simple Minds' Jim Kerr would have sung proudly, his headband gray with perspiration and his mesh shirt stuck to his chest.

"Evil" starts off with a quiet bass figure, before moving into a bridge where Banks tells a girl named Rosemary that she's got a great smile. Then there's a pause, a couple of chopped guitar chords, and the band launches into a mother-of-Jesus epic chorus, complete with strings. "San-DEE, why can't we look the other way?" Banks gasps. I have no idea why he's suddenly addressing a different special lady, but I'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 seem like they could be enjoyed by people who don't know where the L train goes, and that's why Antics is so much more fun than Turn on the Bright Lights. For a guy who looks like his strongest opinions are about top-shelf vodkas and single-needle tailoring, Banks has created a romantic persona worthy of Bryan Ferry: a shabbily chic Everyman who laughingly 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 the record (though "Public Pervert" is undeniably the best song title). The band still do plenty of the moody stuff that gave the first record whatever resonance it had, but now they offset the minor-key gloom with major-scale melodies. "Narc" pulls off this trick, and so does "A Time to Be So Small." There's also some air in the arrangements-the album feels 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 froma guy who considers "Let's tend to the engine tonight" a come-hither line, this is a sign that his moment on the catwalk has arrived.

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