The ’80s are known as the period when artifice smothered musical soul like so much lip gloss. Interpol’s post-punk-derived atmospherics belie that notion. Turn on the Bright Lights revels in minor keys and clear, wiry bass/guitar tones that bring to mind Wire, New Order or early U2, while lead singer Paul Banks combines the flat delivery of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis with the wounded shakiness of the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano, or David Byrne at his most sensitive. It adds up to a pained and compelling sound that feels like it’s mostly their own.
The album kicks off with Banks mumbling his lines over a building swarm of guitar and drum echo—Joy Division’s and U2’s way of disseminating a mood. “I’ll surprise you sometimes / I’ll come ’round / when you’re down,” he repeats, until it becomes the untitled song’s mantra and Banks’s promised coming-round (who he’s speaking to, and why, is unclear) takes on a sort of eschatological significance. On the 10 tracks remaining, Interpol never quite leave that first song’s ambivalent, unresolved place. This is not to say that there’s no difference between the angular, thudding punk of “Obstacle 1” or “PDA” and the dirgelike pace of “The New” and “Stella was a diver and she was always down.” But there’s always something grey and misty about their sound, which reaches its peak on the just-slightly-majestic “NYC,” as strings drift like searchlights over the slashing, pinprick guitars while Banks, who seems to be walking through the city, tells its streets that he’s “Sick of spending these lonely nights / training myself not to care.” A strong, dramatic debut.