Interpol’s latest is a dramatic set, to say the least. Where past hits like “Evil” and “Obstacle 1” have succeeded with simple melodies that build to surging peaks, El Pintor turns to heavy layers of sound and droning, repeated sections to bring its point home. To visualize the album as a painting in line with the title (direct translation: The Painter) brings clarity, as the songs are less urgently released and more crafted, considered and arranged.
“All the Rage Back Home” starts the album with meandering notes and a wistfully sung lament, before charging into the vintage Interpol sound, complete with thick drumbeat and Paul Banks’ restrained, maudlin vocals. The song moves naturally, breathing in all the right places, and provides a refreshing take on the chorus as the song’s title is repeated in the outro. This particular painting, as the metaphor goes, is enjoyable because of its stylistic adherence. There are empty spaces and flourishes alike, all packaged together in a focused frame.
As the album progresses, though, it’s clear that “All the Rage” is exceptional among its peers. Many of the tracks, “My Desire” & “Tidal Wave” to name a couple, seem constantly in search of a muse or an artistic device to guide them. Their essence is their desire to represent a struggle for artistic meaning, but they are written and performed as if the struggle is the end goal, rather than a means to find muse or to realize the initial motivation. Lyrically, and instrumentally, the focus lies on representing the state of creation, rather than expressing the passion behind the art’s initiation. “Same Town, New Story” repeats its flittering intro guitar riff throughout, perpetuating the sense that we are observing something thoughtfully created, rather than something spontaneously emoted – a charm that Interpol has captured at their peaks. The emphasis is forcibly placed on creative songwriting, and on connecting with the audience through the spectacle of performance (i.e. the drawn out outro “Twice as Hard”).
The creation of pointed, mildly bummed out indie-pop songs is a talent that Interpol won’t lose any time soon, as evidenced by “All the Rage Back Home” and “Breaker 1”. El Pintor, however, plays from start to end like an attempt to show that there are other tricks in the book. As if to say that the art they create is capable of different levels of connection than the raw pulse of many of their best-known songs. It’s a noble effort to diversify the context in which the band can be enjoyed, but the album comes off as too self-aware, and too focused on the meaning of each songwriting decision. There is a balance somewhere, but Interpol landed on the wrong side of it with El Pintor.