Revisiting The Brilliance Of Interpol’s 'Turn on the Bright Lights'

November saw the release of the 10th Anniversary Edition of Interpol's classic album 'Turn on the Bright Lights'. Here's why it's still as good now as it was in 2002...
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November saw the release of the 10th Anniversary Edition of Interpol's classic album 'Turn on the Bright Lights'. Here's why it's still as good now as it was in 2002...

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It has been ten years since one of my all time favourite albums was released, Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights. Despite the time that has elapsed, I still treasure each of the songs like the gems I thought I'd discovered all that time ago. People will always have that 'special album’ - one that speaks to them in a different language than it speaks to others; and one that you can return to time and time again for solitude and comfort. This is mine; and I will attempt to share with you why.

Interpol formed in 1997, Daniel Kessler (guitar), Carlos Dengler (bass), Paul Banks (guitar and vocals), and Greg Drudy (drums) made up the four piece until Greg Drudy was replaced by Sam Fogarino in 2000 (and it is Sam Fogarino who records on TOTBL). The band are renowned for their smart appearance and demure on-stage attitude, which seemed to set the tone perfectly for the music they created as a band. TOTBL, their debut, was released in August 2002 through the independent label Matador, but only managed to reach 101 on the UK album chart. Despite this, TOTBL was well received critically, and was considered one of the best albums of the decade by various critics, managing to make an appearance on many top 10 album lists of 2002.

Not only has it been 10 years since the release of Turn On The Bright Lights, but it has also been a decade since the turn of a revolution of music: garage rock, new rock, alternative indie - it went by many names. However, I think we all know which scene I'm talking about: "the one The Strokes triggered". The turn of the millennium saw a massive shift in musical attitude - people were refusing to digest a diet of boy-bands and tin-pop; and instead sought something more raw, with an attitude, and more specifically with something to say. TOTBL certainly has something to say; the wonderful thing about it is that with more and more listens, I change my mind about its meaning.

It is no wonder that TOTBL received such a great acclaim by critics; the album has an innocence and beautiful naivety about it, one that I doubt will ever be created again by Interpol. Their unique dark and moody melodies are laced with Paul Banks' baritone vocals, which have now become iconic. Yet ten years ago this was something fresh - it was exciting, and it certainly challenged the feel good, poppy element that was not only present in pop music but also, albeit arguably in a more convincible manner, in indie music. Their passion intertwines within every rhythm and note of the album, which seems to convey an 'all in' attitude. Interpol had nothing to lose with TOTBL, there was no expectation and so, perhaps unbeknownst to them, they made a masterpiece.

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The beautiful thing about this record being re-released is the interpretation of the music, more specifically, the lyrics as a 26 year old as opposed to a 16 year old. The track NYC is a perfect example of how I seem to find something completely different within a song as I mature.  As a teenager, I marvelled at the ode to an iconic city. However, listening to the same song as an adult, I hear that it goes much deeper than that. Now I hear the strife for change – the protagonist’s desire to be their own person and follow their own pursuits instead of becoming someone other people want them to be. Now obviously, this is just my own personal interpretation of the song, but that’s one the many wonderful things about music and interpretation of lyrics. Furthermore, most records and songs re-heard as an adult are bound to evoke different emotions. TOTBL, for me, is different because musically it still continues to mystify, evoke and challenge my ears. Those lucky ears!

I think you’ve found a special album when it can make you feel a broad range of emotions throughout the duration of the record. One of my favourite things about TOTBL is its ability to run several themes at the same time within one song. The New is a perfect example of how Interpol manage to explore dark, troubling emotions intertwined with those more frivolous. The de-tuning of both guitars as the song develops evokes an unnerved apprehension of some sorts – there is a sense of danger permeating through the melody, and yet the bass appears to be playing a completely different sort of tune; it is intricate and actually incredibly funky. Somehow these two contrasts merge perfectly, presenting the listener with a rich and luscious sounding song but without sounding rehearsed – The New sounds like a fluid jam with a spill of agitation, anticipation and excitement.

TOTBL was re-released in November 2012 to mark its ten year anniversary. Along with a re-mastered version of the album itself, there is a selection of previously unreleased demos and b-sides with an additional live DVD.  A statement was released by the band to say that, “We wanted to do something special for the fans who have always supported us. We wanted to do something special for the best fans in the world. We hope you enjoy it.” For me, a long standing fan of Interpol, it certainly was a special treat. It was actually one of my Christmas presents and over the festive season I flicked through the various demos and b-sides like an excited child discovering a new level to their computer game. However, it wasn’t until New Years Day, whilst driving, that I decided to listen to TOTBL itself. Listening to a much loved album from your past, with hindsight, provokes reflective thinking: things you’ve achieved, things lost etc, but most poignantly it gave me an opportunity to look ahead at the next 10 years. It was then that I realised that no matter what happened, everything was going to be okay. Why? Because I would always have this album, my special little gem, and I hope for your sake that you have one of these too.