Turn on the Bright Lights

Instead of lopping off chunks of '70s garage-rock tunes and stitching them together to create the Strokes or the White Stripes, the much-hyped NYC foursome known as Interpol has opted for an early-'80s thing, resulting in a sound that borrows equally from the Smiths, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Echo and the Bunnymen, and early Cure. The fact that the band fits so marketably into the void between fashionable NYC garage-rock cool and forever-dorky indie rock -- not to mention the fact that they wear pretentious pin-striped suits -- is enough to warrant a dismissal in the minds of many cynics. The problem, however, is that Interpol's music is really, really good. So what if they seem a wee bit contrived? They've created one of the best rock albums so far this year.

"Untitled" kicks it all off. The track's opium-flavored guitars -- delayed, à la Slowdive -- drag you in like a siren's call. By the time the drums and bass drop in, you're calling your friends to tell them about your new favorite band. "Yeah, but it can't all be that good," your friend tells you. The next track comes on. Yes, it can. From the languid anthem "NYC" through the emotive jangle of "PDA" -- "You're so cute when you're sedated," sings vocalist-guitarist Paul Banks (so '80s!) -- to the melancholy xylophones sprinkled across "The New," the album delivers on every track.

Be warned, though: In what appears to be a listening station-related marketing strategy, the singles comprise the first half of the record, followed by less catchy, albeit equally powerful, material at the tail end. The album, therefore, feels a bit lopsided the first few times around, requiring about five listens before everything evens out. Two things must also be mentioned. 1) "Say Hello to the Angels" is admittedly the biggest rip-off of a Smiths song ever; and 2) on "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down," Banks actually wails out, repeatedly, "Steeeellll-aaaa!" But that's kind of the way it goes with Interpol. They take a lot of risks, most of them wise (gallons of reverb), some of them not (their haircuts), but ultimately the band's perfectly timed adventure through the annals of '80s guitar rock is so well done that you end up forgiving them for everything, even the suits.


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