Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Interpol -- Antics
Matador Records; 2004

After releasing their debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights to astounding critical approval, Interpol knew they had set a precedent for themselves. They would be allowed no flubs on their follow up or they would be dismissed as simply lucky instead of extremely talented. In addition, they had the mammoth task of presenting evidence of a singular style that could dig them out of being pigeonholed as derivative of Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnymen. Antics, their second full-length album is a million dollar bet on black (and, uh, red) that seems to pay off.

Antics is the sound of a band that's loosened up a bit, one that's seen the wonders of the world and come back wiser. While Turn on... teemed with tightly wound nerves, Antics feels calm and collected, all without losing a bit of the urgency that makes Interpol so vital. For much of the album guitarists Daniel Kessler and Paul Banks stick to their patent razor sharp guitar-picking that originally brought them acclaim. On occasion though, the guys take the liberty of rocking out or to switch to a fancier strumming pattern, like on "Evil" and "C'mere" respectively.

Singer Paul Banks, whose voice sounds disturbingly similar to the late Ian Curtis, does an admirable job at distinguishing himself. Sounding stronger and more pained, Banks' huge voice perfectly compliments the band without sounding too reminiscent. Carlos D's basswork anchors each song with a steady throbbing akin to the sweetest hangover you could get. Providing the band's backbone once again is Sam Fogarino's limber drumming, aided most by an uncanny sense of when to sit out and let the song breathe.

And there's plenty of breathing room in Antics. Songs like "Public Pervert" and "Next Exit" are deliberately paced to show off their melodies and provide songs with a sense of reverence. With the claustrophobic tension of Turn on... dissipated, Interpol rounds out their sound with hazy feedback on "Take You On A Cruise," and organ ("Narc," "Next Exit").

Another startling change in Interpol's work is their tone. Turn on... was cold and calculating, with despair being the leading emotion. Antics is altogether a warmer album, one that expresses its sadness in a melancholic way. Where "Evil" could have been the loneliest song in the universe, it ends up providing a hopeful tone. "Next Exit" sounds like it could have been sung through a smug smile. Even the lyrics show a more personal side of Interpol. Banks sings about why a girl should love him back on "Narc," makes plans for the difficult future on "Not Even Jail," and warns his girl about detractors on "Length of Love." It's a bit of a departure from his previous lyrics, but an interesting one nonetheless.

If there is one point on the album that shines less than the rest, it's certainly "A Time to Be So Small." Lacking a memorable chorus or any real hook, the song sounds like a B-side that was tacked on as an afterthought. It's surprising that Interpol would include such a weak link -- particularly at the end of the album when would have been less noticeable lumped in the middle somewhere. Not a huge fault by any means -- it just seems unnecessary on such an otherwise outstanding album.

Antics is proof that Interpol has some serious staying power. They've made an album strikingly different from their first effort, showing real growth through changes in style, tone and topic. While I'm undecided which of their two albums is better, I'm not sure that need be decided, since they're both fantastic for different reasons. With the way Interpol has progressed, I'd wager that we can expect many more good things from these fellows before their time is through.

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