Short of digging up Ian Curtis, reanimating him and persuading him to perform a duet with Paul Banks, there's no possible way that
Interpol could have lived up to the lofty expectations surrounding their second record.
Antics' arrival at Splendid HQ days rather than weeks before our absolute last-chance publication deadline has required me to spend
every available minute with its ten tracks. It hasn't been an unpleasant experience. I don't see myself souring on Antics the way I
did on Turn On the Bright Lights; whereas the group's abundantly lauded debut grew more brittle and precious with each successive spin,
to the point where I would not -- could not -- listen again, Antics seems warmer and more matter-of-fact. It reminds us that Interpol
is a rock band, not a joyless but well-groomed Eastern European boy band. It's not perfect, but it'll do nicely, thanks.
So let's get this out in the open: nothing on Antics will make you say "Holy shit -- I didn't know Interpol could do that!"
Is that a failing? No. We're not talking about the Rolling Stones, are we? Until recently, Interpol had fewer than twenty songs
in their repertoire. The trend that brought them to prominence is still on the pop cultural front burner. The public will be
content with more Interpol; they don't need different yet.
Antics broadens Interpol's spectrum in small but significant ways. Opener "Next Exit" makes no attempt to conceal its fifties
rock roots -- it's as languidly wistful as a sock hop slow dance, full of muffled kick-drum box-step beats, tambourine accents,
and quivering, reverb-steeped electric guitar chords. I wish they'd taken the fifties vibe further; replace a few of those keening
guitar notes with a pedal steel and the song might well become a "Sleepwalking" for the post-millennial set. The superlative
"Slow Hands" thrusts the group further onto the dancefloor, unleashing an undulating guitar-and-bass-driven chorus that may
have been purpose-bred to bring hesitant Rapture and !!! fans into the Interpol fold. If any portion of Antics gets stuck in your head,
"Slow Hands"' chorus will be it.
"C'mere" trims away a lot of the group's inherent doom and gloom and lays the foundation for a poppier sound, gently repositioning
them for a repeat of their commercial radio success, and "Not Even Jail"'s rapturous chorus could easily expand to arena-rock scale.
There's definitely long-haul potential here.
You'll also notice an overall tightening of Interpol's sound. After three years of regular touring, they've clearly honed
their performance skills, and Antics gives them a chance to show off. There's less of the pillowy post-shoegaze production
gloss that helped "NYC" to wear out its welcome, and drummer Sam Fogarino takes a far more animated, aggressive approach,
dominating the mix whenever he can rather than simply keeping time. If you've seen the group's faster, feistier live show,
you know what to expect -- more rock, less cloying atmosphere. Those nagging critical comparisons to Kitchens of Distinction should taper
off once Antics is in wide release; only "Take You On A Cruise" and "A Time to Be Small" really venture into gauzy shoegazer territory,
and they're more likely to inspire Talk Talk references.
Every song on Antics has something special to offer, whether it's a particularly passionate vocal performance by steely-voiced Paul Banks
(whose youthful appearance remains at odds with his singing voice), a vibrant bass line from Carlos D. (whose brooding mystique, contrary
to popular opinion, doesn't completely evaporate when you find out that his last name is "Dengler"), or just a glorious moment of instrumental
catharsis like "Slow Hands"' heart-fluttering chorus. As an album, though, it's less successful. Something crucial but intangible is missing:
the binding magic that threads songs together at the molecular level and makes us wonder how they could ever work in any other order is notably
absent. It's the spell that makes us leave the last five minutes of a cassette copy blank rather than fill it with an "unlike" song by another
artist -- the animus that marks an expanded, remastered, double-disc edition of a classic record as inherently inferior to the original. Antics
doesn't have it. You will love some or all of these ten tracks, but for reasons you don't quite understand, you may never love the album as a whole.
Antics isn't a disappointment. It effectively builds upon Turn On the Bright Lights' foundation, and proves that Interpol's
success wasn't just a well-timed convergence of marketing strategy and audience tastes. But it's not the album we'll remember them for. That's still to come.