Interpol isn’t the first band you’d expect to beef with the NYPD, but that’s what happened. In a 2018 interview with Entertainment Weekly, frontman Paul Banks recounted how his band had nearly gotten arrested while working on its sixth album, Marauder. “We were in the basement of a residential building on the Bowery that probably wasn’t adequately soundproofed for our drummer,” Banks said of the album’s early practice sessions. “There were a few noise complaints reaching us, and then eventually it was a cop knocking on the door.”
At risk of reading way too much into one funny anecdote, this confrontation does lend some credibility to the sense that Marauder contained Interpol’s loudest and most urgent-sounding work in years. The album’s coarse, distorted edge owed much to producer Dave Fridmann (the guy produced The Woods—he understands distortion), but it also boasted some of Interpol’s most memorable material this side of Antics, including the darkly seductive “Stay in Touch.”
With one listen to the band’s new EP, A Fine Mess, it seems readily apparent that these songs emerged from the same sessions that produced Marauder—same agitated tempos, same sonic crunch—and also fairly clear why they didn’t make the cut. Each of these five songs is passable. They are distinctly Interpol. The usual elements, from the warm gloom of Banks’ baritone to Daniel Kessler’s ringing, generous guitar work, are in place. But there is nothing here memorable enough to stand with Marauder’s high points.
The main attraction here is the (almost) title track, “Fine Mess,” which opens in a thick blast of cassette-quality vocal distortion. It is the sort of abrasive gesture you would expect from Wavves or even Times New Viking. The song evokes a tumultuous romance, and lines like “I’d like to tour the ‘80s / But I got sideswiped and came right to ‘78” are amusingly on-the-nose, even if you need a lyric sheet to decipher them. The song’s propulsive chorus has made it a reasonably welcome addition to the band’s recent setlists.
Elsewhere, we get “No Big Deal,” a supple groove thrashing in search of a vocal melody, and the pretty good “Real Life,” in which Kessler’s sing-songy riffs take the foreground and Banks’s existential musings drift into the background. (Curiously, it was one of the earliest songs written for the album, though the band came to regard it as inessential.) “The Weekend,” meanwhile, has an arpeggiated guitar intro that’s a suspiciously close cousin of “Number 10,” though less compelling. The lyric is not, apparently, a reference to The Weeknd, though he is cited by name (and trademark misspelling) in “Fine Mess.” Go figure.
With EP releases like this, the party line is often that the songs were left off the album not because they were inferior but because they simply didn’t fit. What’s disappointing about A Fine Mess is not just that the songs are unremarkable but also that they don’t deviate from the band’s usual approach in any notable way. There are no oddball experiments here, no genre strays, no real risks to speak of. There are just five more songs that sound a lot like Interpol, for fans for whom that is always enough.