EP Review: Interpol – 'A Fine Mess'

Stoic alternative icons attempt to rejuvenate the spark of yesteryear on wavering new EP

Despite being arguably one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, New York trio Interpol have forever felt destined to be heroes of the underground scene. Their first record Turn on the Bright Lights has been hailed as one of the greatest debuts to have ever graced the alternative world, and follow-up albums Antics and Our Love to Admire were met with critical acclaim and rapturous support. Yet since then, the tide has well and truly turned and the band who are, now more than ever, seemingly finding it difficult to establish a place for themselves again in the modern New York music scene.

Once a smorgasbord for passionate musicians and nonconformity, New York has descended into a haven for aspiring rappers in the era of mass streaming and Soundcloud. Whilst Interpol’s contagious blend of barrelling vocals, stark stylistic choices and rollicking guitars made them one of the most sought-after live prospects in the mid 2000’s, like most New York bands the hedonistic Manhattan lifestyle eventually took its toll and the ethereal excitement that once permeated their early catalogue of work faded as bassist Carlos Dengler departed the band in 2010, leaving the now-trio attempting to consolidate the fracturing relationships within the band.

Despite releasing sixth studio album Marauder in August 2018, the band, consisting of Paul Banks (vocals, bass), Daniel Kessler (guitar) and Sam Fogarino (drums), returned last week with a five-track EP of varying success. Showing their statement of intent from the off with the raucous and seductive Fine Mess, a track balanced precociously on the tipping point between gorgeously moody and self-destructive, the band prove that they’re not afraid to take a risk, even this far into their career. Kessler’s gyrating guitar spirals an incandescent web around the single, whilst Banks’ staccato-ed bass groove captures the pulsating danger that has lied so dormant in the band’s music in recent years. Vocally, Banks’ baritone boom rings alarmingly atop the impassioned sprawl of instrumentation.

A track narrating the journey of a sanguine and starry pair, buoyed and dashed alike by their own dreams and appetites, Fine Mess is a momentous response to doubters as to whether the band were capable of producing seismic tracks again. Even with the quick-fire magic of The Rover on 2018’s Marauder, it has been almost a decade since the New York trio produced a single of such grandeur proportion.

To follow a track of such portentous quality was always going to be a nye-on-impossible task to achieve and No Big Deal proves just that. A lulling vocal offering matches the dampened guitar, which offers glimpses of hope towards the track’s latter stages, but is never given the chance to fully take off. The flickering guitar and thumping bass drum introduction of Real Life holds promise upon first listen, but like No Big Deal, it fails to fully meet its potential. However, unlike its predecessor, Real Life ventures along a winding path of flowing rock, building into a lofty, stylistic soundscape.

The rolling tour-de-force of The Weekend pivots back to the sprawling city sound of the band’s iconic debut record. A leaner, more direct and aggressive offering from the trio, Banks’ crisp vocals soar emphatically throughout the track’s momentous chorus, whilst the signature web of ringing dual-guitar leads and crashing drums provides a scintillating depth that the EP so desperately craves. The seductive, hip-swirling introduction of closing track Thrones adds one final twist to A Fine Mess. Unabashedly dark, the single is carried by an alarming paranoia ringing through Banks’ Orwellian-esque lyrics. The combination of Fogarino’s unwavering and relentless drums and Kessler’s developing guitar line reflects the delirious danger of bustling Manhattan, bringing the EP to a towering conclusion.

Despite repeated listens, it’s hard to fully grasp how the EP as a collection of songs works together. The band seem to have put Fine Mess on such a pedestal that it corrupts the balance of the EP. The momentum built within the opening single slowly dissipates and as each track struggles to maintain a grip and stamp its own authority, the band come tumbling down to earth with a bang. Subtle reflections of the band’s seductive past lure you in for a momentary interlude, but these moments wear painfully thin.

The alternative poster boys for a generation of musicians, Interpol will forever be remembered alongside The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s as the catalysts behind New York’s rock revival towards the beginning of the new millennium, yet they offer a very different brand to their fellow contemporaries, one which perhaps explains why the new EP fails to convey a band who used to be on top of the world. The Strokes’ effervescent indie rock and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s carnal lure make their music an instant hit when listening, but for Interpol you can’t feel the full force of the trio until you see them in a live setting. Captivating, moody and commanding at the perfect times, the trio are a striking presence on stage when emblazoned with their now-traditional black suits and red ties. Interpol have always been a band for the creators, the escapists and the dreamers.

They have offered the full artistic package for so long now, and whilst 2010’s self-titled fourth record and 2014’s El Pintor failed to recreate the glory of their electrifying first three records, the trio have started to offer glimpses of their past successes, first with 2018’s Marauder and now in snippets of A Fine Mess. Whether it’s enough to turn the heads of the masses and maintain momentum however is another question.

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