Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights Reissue

Music Reviews
Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights Reissue

“Whatever happened to Interpol?” you might be wondering, realizing that’s it’s been 10 full years since their elegantly opaque debut, Turn on the Bright Lights. Since their 2002 opening statement, they’ve grazed the Billboard charts, headlined Madison Square Garden and toured with U2, though the Interpol narrative hasn’t exactly been a winning one, especially if you ask someone who was drawn to Paul Banks’ baritone long before it graced successful singles like “Slow Hands” and “The Heinrich Maneuver.” Latter-day Interpol never matched the hype of those who crowned them, along with groups like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the early-2000s rock saviors of this and that, bound to continue the tradition of downtown cool via a string of sonically ambitious, critically lauded albums. Subsequent records were met with good (Antics) to middling (Interpol) to downright negative response (Our Love to Admire). There hasn’t been talk of a breakup, but at this point, the band’s future doesn’t look too rosy.

But let’s back up and take a look on the bright side: Matador’s 10-year anniversary re-release of Turn on the Bright Lights is likely to be the favorite Interpol release of many since the quartet first turned heads in 2002. Matador’s done an admirable job of stuffing the cornucopia with plenty of bait for diehards, mainly a second disc’s worth of rarities and a companion book with old photos and nostalgic commentary from guitarist Daniel Kessler. He reminisces about being mugged at knifepoint returning from recording their first EP, sound pollution from the paper-thin walls of the band’s early Williamsburg rehearsal space (competing with Black Dice couldn’t have been fun), and recording a Peel session during their first U.K. tour—nothing that’s going to reinvent the Interpol narrative, but intriguing primary sources for Interpol partisans just the same.

It’s in the bonus tracks, though, where Interpol historians are likely to have the most fun. Disc 2 is a bricolage of odds and ends from the band’s early years: a couple of early EPs, two mastered b-sides, roughly half of Turn on the Bright Lights in demo form, the aforementioned Peel sessions and two forgotten demos yet to see the light of day: the sparse, somewhat wandering “Gavilan/Cubed” and the primal, nearly wordless “Get the Girls.”

On an album (in)famous for its mysteriously awkward lyrics, we’re given even more clunkers (left in their primordially awkward demo state) to mull over. The champion here is quite possibly “Song Seven,” a more meandering cousin of “Obstacle 1” (from 2001’s Precipitate EP) with the line “You were just like a flower, then you were a lime, now our love is sour.” With a window into the creative process that birthed Turn on the Bright Lights, we learn the demos at hand didn’t change much along the way, with few (if any) lyrical or major musical alterations. Of the material that failed to make the cut, you’d be hard-pressed to argue for its inclusion over anything on the final product, essentially reaffirming what we already knew about Turn on the Bright Lights—a stark, emotionally gripping, near-seamless record with scarcely any sonic space left to fill.

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