Album: El Pintor
Label: Matador/Soft Limit
When a founding member leaves a group, it can be an important catalyst for revitalization and reinvention – namely if the group chooses to soldier on without an official replacement for that member. When Bill Berry left R.E.M. in 1998, the band took it as an opportunity to explore further themes outside the drums/bass/guitar world. Similarly, the Smashing Pumpkins fired drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in 1996 and made Adore as a trio, utilizing session drummers and beat boxes. In both cases, the results weren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the music was inarguably compelling and sounded like a band doing their best to work with the hand they were dealt.
For Interpol’s fifth album, El Pintor, the band aren’t trying anything new, but there is definitely an urgency and vitality restored to the group given the departure of mainstay Carlos Dengler, after the completion of their last album, 2010’s Interpol. That album was rife with a feeling of uncertainty and aimlessness, and while it had a few choice cuts, it felt like the kind of record you make when it’s just not fun anymore. While the band successfully toured the album utilizing Slint’s David Pajo and later Brad Traux, there were no definite plans to continue Interpol, although the band remained hopeful that they would reemerge after their 2011 hiatus.
Rather then welcoming in a new member into the group (which likely would have been a big mistake given how particular the group’s sound is, not to mention Dengler’s heavy visual presence), the band is back as trio with singer Paul Banks stepping in on bass. While Dengler offered great counterpoints to Daniel Kessler’s moonlit guitar parts, his absence is not obvious. Unlike the aforementioned instances of bands soldiering on without a key member, El Pintor sounds like another Interpol record, albeit with an energy and hunger that had been fading since 2007’s Our Love to Admire. Opener “All the Rage Back Home” is a driving rocker that is one of the most hopeful and engaging songs they’ve made in years. Elsewhere, the group’s new shape and truncated line-up has allows for some excellent interplay between the group, that may not have been possible with Dengler. “My Blue Supreme” opens with a familiar string of minor chords, but drummer Sam Fogarino’s samba beat gives way to a dreamy falsetto from Banks for the verses and a driving earworm of a chorus. It’s the kind of cleansing song that a band with internal strife would be hard-pressed to create.
Elsewhere, the band stays in their comfort zone. Single “Anywhere” updates the propulsive churning of “PDA” and there’s the usual use of gothy atmospherics on tracks like “Breaker 1” and “Twice as Hard,” the latter of which starts out excellently with a Godspeed-esque swirl, but is a bit bogged down by a nagging chorus. “Twice as Hard” as a comedown works well as a closer though, especially after the one-two punch of “Ancient Ways” and “Tidal Wave,” both of which feature Banks’ best basswork on the record.
Calling El Pintor a “return to form” would not be the most accurate description considering Interpol have never been a band that has strayed from “form.” You either like the band’s light-in-the-darkness version of post-punk, or you don’t. If you do however, and felt as though their self-titled was the sound of a band falling apart, El Pintor is a mostly refreshing re-pasting of the pieces that made them so compelling to begin with. While it’s not on par with Turn On the Bright Lights’ pristine wonder, it’s definitely comparable to Antics’ desire to move forward.